Hundreds of New Yorkers Gather to Welcome Cuban President Raúl Castro

photo: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. Translators sit beside the leaders, and at right U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

September 29, 2015 | by Sandy Marks

Cuba’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Rodolfo Reyes, hosted more than 180 New Yorkers and a delegation of Cuban political and cultural leaders for a cocktail reception at the Cuban Mission in honor of Cuban President Raúl Castro Sunday evening, September 27. Ambassador Reyes, a human rights expert, is the first Cuban diplomat to host a Cuban head of state in the United States since 2000 when then-President Fidel Castro came to New York City.

While the reception’s invited guests patiently waited outside the Cuban Mission in mid-town Manhattan to be admitted, dozens more New Yorkers were lined up across the street holding high a huge banner that said, “Welcome, Raúl!” This marked Castro’s historic visit to the United States.

The guests enjoyed the characteristic Cuban mojitos as well as optimistic conversation about the recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations.

The great moment of the evening occurred early into the event, when President Castro arrived. Castro was immediately surrounded by the admiring crowd, each trying to exchange their own special greeting with him. Staff members painstakingly moved the whole group one-by-one through this process, giving each person the opportunity to have a photo taken with the historic revolutionary leader.

The Cuban Mission building, owned by the country’s Foreign Ministry since the 1970’s, was built originally as a hospital. It thus became the fitting home for a country whose top domestic and international social program has been universal medical care and global health.

Guests at the event included iconic American entertainment personalities such as Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover; alternative media host Amy Goodman; leading lawyers Martin Garbus, José Pertierra and Michael Warren; pioneers from Pastors for Peace, the entity that husbanded the free medical education program in Cuba for American students; Bob Schwartz of Disarm/Global Health Partners, and many business people as well as leaders of community-based organizations and local and national grassroots efforts here in the United States. The common denominator for the guests was their long-standing and material support for Cuba.

In addition to the American guests, many members of Cuba’s political and cultural leadership were present. A delegation from Havana was present in New York for the occasion of the Sustainable Development Agenda Summit, the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and many important addresses on matters of peace and development. Present at the reception were Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez; Cuba’s Ambassador to the United States José Ramon Cabañas; the official historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal, who is credited with the renaissance of the old city; Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of the President and member of the Cuban Parliament; Alejandro Castro Espín, son of the President and a Colonel in Cuba’s Interior Ministry; Dr. Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, Fidel Castro’s son and an orthopedic doctor who trains Cuban sports teams. Josefina Vidal, leader of the negotiations with the United States State Department and director general of the U.S. division at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry; and Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz. Renowned Cuban artist Alexis Leyva, known as “Kcho,” was present, and took photos of President Castro greeting the U.S. luminaries.

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