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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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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