Cuba's human rights still a hurdle ahead of Kerry's visit

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Cuba's Human Rights Still a Hurdle Ahead of Kerry's Visit

There have been months of historic U.S.-Cuba moments, from the symbolic handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro to the announcement of restored ties.

Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to the island on Friday to raise the American flag over the embassy in Havana begins the next chapter in renewed relations.

SEE MORE: How the US gained control of Guantanamo Bay

But will this new relationship benefit both countries economically and culturally, as U.S. and Cuban officials have suggested?

Over the past few years, the Cuban government had already implemented some gradual economic reforms, but both countries think the possibility of lifting the embargo and increasing trade could be a big economic opportunity.

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Cuba's human rights still a hurdle ahead of Kerry's visit
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 12: A family shares the back seat of a group taxi August 12, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A U.S., and a Cuban national flag, hang from a balcony to mark the restored full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Unites States, in Old Havana, Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 12: A young couple kiss on top of the fortifications of El Castillo del Morro, an old Spanish fort that stands at the mouth of the Port of Havana, August 12, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In this May 21, 2015, file photo, people sit on deck chairs on an artificial beach as a bride and groom ride a classic American convertible car on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, Thursday. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 12: Cubans pose for photographs on top of the fortifications of El Castillo del Morro, an old Spanish fort at the mouth of the Port of Havana as the sun sets August 12, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The entrance to the studio and art gallery of Cuban artist Leo D´Lazaro, named "The Eye of the Hurricane," stands open in Old Havana, Cuba, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 13: A man roasts coffee beans at Cafe El Escorial at the Plaza Vieja in the old part of the city August 13, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo, young men play basketball in a make-shift court, with two other players, as a woman watches from her doorstep in Old Havana, Cuba.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 13: A Cuban woman wears American-flag themed tights in the old part of the city August 13, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HAVANA - JUNE 11: Taxi drivers with their restored antique cars wait for tourists in front of the Capitol building in Havana, June 11, 2015. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
In this Monday, July 20, 2015 photo, Javier Yanez looks out from his balcony where he hung a U.S., and a Cuban national flag, to celebrate the restored full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Unites States, in Old Havana. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Javier Yanez celebrates as he watches the televised opening ceremony of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C, at his home in Old Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
People wait for the start of a swimming competition in Havana Bay during a small fair in the Casablanca neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Cuban and U.S. flag wave from the balcony of the Hotel Saratoga where a U.S. Congressional delegation is staying in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Jan. 17, 2015, photo, Yurien Rojas, who sells custard filled pastries known as Señoritas, waits for customers on a street in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
A house in need of repair is seen on the Malecon in Old Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Many buildings are terribly rundown. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
This Dec. 30, 2014 photo shows Havana from the capitol dome in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Jan. 3, 2015, file photo, a woman leads a girl by the hand to the Malecon as the sun sets in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Major League Baseball cards from 1956, Cuban postage stamps of revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara and Cuban currency are displayed for sale by a peddler in Old Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 12: Adrian Serrano gets a little help from a niece while preparing a caldosa, a communal stew, over an open fire on the street in honor of former President Fidel Castro's birthday August 12, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana Friday and raise the American flag at the reopened U.S. embassy, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Kids watch a swimming competition in Havana Bay during a small fair in the Casablanca neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In this Sunday, May 24, 2015 photo, a group of American tourists on a guided tour listen to a information on the Cathedral, in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this May 24, 2015 photo, a vegetable vendor cycles through Cathedral Square in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
This May 13, 2015 photo shows a shell of a building with the sky visible in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz)
In this Oct. 16, 2014, file photo, people drive classic American car in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
A man waves the US and Cuban flags as he walks in front of the new Cuban Embassy shortly before it's official ceremonial opening July 20, 2015, in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Traffic moves beside a building in need of repair, on the Malecon in Old Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
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For the U.S., Fortune says that will likely come in the form of agricultural and telecommunications exports. For Cuba, normalizing relations could lead to profits from tourism and remittance allowances.

As for the culture shift, many are pointing to possible improvements in human rights in Cuba and improvements to infrastructure.

"We have many things we need to work on together, ranging from law enforcement, maritime security, education, health, telecommunications," Kerry said.



On health, better relations could mean increased research collaboration and transportation of medical equipment to Cuba.

But on human rights issues, the two countries still haven't quite found middle ground. (Video via WPLG)

"I think we have had to lower our standards in order to raise our flag in Havana. We aren't defending human rights, we aren't defending the very idea of representative democracy," said Roger Noriega, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

And many U.S. politicians have been critical of the lack of concrete human rights changes from the negotiations.

"The United States should only have a new relationship with Cuba when there is progress on basic human rights for the Cuban people, including the release of political prisoners, fair and free elections, the respect of the rule of law," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

During Friday's ceremony to raise the U.S. flag at the embassy in Havana, Kerry added to that sentiment, saying "We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith."

At the request of the U.S., Cuba announced the release of 53 Cuban political prisoners at the beginning of the year. But there have been various reports of Cuban protesters being arrested since then.

The two countries still have a lot of differences to work out, but on Friday, the U.S. flag will fly over the U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961.
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