U.S. flag stays high in Havana while others at half-staff for Fidel Castro

636159313911811894-ap-cuba-fidel-castro-2HAVANA,Nov. 30th (USA TODAY) Flags throughout this capital city were lowered to half-staff this week to honor Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro, with one notable exception: the American flag.636161057726252478-xxx-castro-flag-half-jmg-154012

The flag outside the U.S. Embassy along Havana’s scenic waterfront has been raisedhigh, even though other foreign embassies — from Canada to Mexico to Venezuela — have lowered theirs. Cuban officials accentuated the point by raising a Cuban flag directly across the street from the U.S. Embassy and keeping it at half-staff.

Roberto Castillo, who credits Castro for providing him the education to rise from a poor farm boy in eastern Cuba to a physics teacher in Havana, called the move “hypocritical.” He said the U.S. can’t claim to be striving for a normal relationship with Cuba then disrespect its beloved former leader, who died Friday at age 90.

“Are you in or are you out?” he said.

The decision by U.S. officials not to lower the flag highlights the complicated diplomacy of renewed relations with the communist country. The U.S. must work with Cuban officials to normalize relations after more than 50 years of isolation, but also satisfy the nearly 2 million Cuban Americans in the United States who have influential positions in the Senate, the House of Representatives and throughout the state of Florida.636160947691127178-ap-cuba-fidel-castro-1

The White House tried to walk that perilous line when President Obama issued a statement following Castro’s death, offering condolences to the Castro family and saying it was time to “put the past behind us.” Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the statement “pathetic.” People in Miami’s Cuban-American enclave were enraged there was no mention of their struggles or bloodshed at the hands of Castro.

Obama’s statement also differed greatly from the one issued by President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to reverse Obama’s decision to re-establish relations with Cuba. Trump described Castro as a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades” and blamed him for “firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”636160181986830222-xxx-castro-mourn-jmg-153267

The Obama administration also agonized over who to send to Castro’s funeral to be held Sunday, and even debated what to call the trip.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to go. Instead, attending will be deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who headed the secret negotiations that led to the historic opening with Cuba, and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana who Obama nominated to become ambassador.636161059819161894-usp-news-fidel-castro-death-002

White House press secretary Josh Earnest made clear that the two men did not represent an official delegation. Asked about the distinction, Earnest said Tuesday that U.S.-Cuba relations remain “quite complicated.”

In a statement to USA TODAY about the flag, the U.S. Embassy said Obama had already expressed his condolences for Castro’s death.

“The decision to fly the flag over U.S. Embassy Havana at full-mast was made in accordance with custom and protocol,” the statement said.