Kerry in Cuba as flag raised over US Embassy

U.S. Flag Raised Above Embassy in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) -- Jubilant crowds waved American flags and chanted "Long live the United States!" as the Stars and Stripes rose over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Cuba on Friday after a half-century of often-hostile relations. Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the day but also made an extraordinary, nationally broadcast call for democratic change on the island.

Hundreds of Cubans mixed with American tourists outside the former U.S. Interests Section, newly emblazoned with the letters "Embassy of the United States of America." They cheered as Kerry spoke, the United States Army Brass Quintet played "The Star-Spangled Banner" and U.S. Marines raised the flag alongside the building overlooking the famous Malecon seaside promenade.

See photos of Kerry's trip to Cuba:

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Kerry in Cuba as flag raised over US Embassy
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 14: Secretary of State John Kerry (R) watches as Marines raise the American flag at the U.S. Embassy August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Kerry will visited the reopened embassy, the first time an American secretary of state has visited Cuba since 1945, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at the US Embassy in Havana on August 14, 2015. The Marine guard of the newly reopened US embassy in Cuba raised the flag over the building Friday for the first time in 54 years, marking the end of the countries' Cold War standoff. AFP PHOTO/Adalberto Roque (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cubans hold US and Cuban flags outside the US Embassy building as the US flag is raised over it in Havana on August 14, 2015, during US Secretary of State John Kerry's (out of frame) visit. The Marine guard of the newly reopened US embassy in Cuba raised the flag over the building Friday for the first time in 54 years, marking the end of the countries' Cold War standoff. AFP PHUOTO/Adalberto Roque (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 14: Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks during the flag-raising ceremony at the recently reopened U.S. Embassy August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Kerry will visited the reopened embassy, the first time an American secretary of state has visited Cuba since 1945, a symbolic act after the the two former Cold War enemies reestablished diplomatic relations in July. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the US Embassy building in Havana on August 14, 2015. The Marine guard of the newly reopened US embassy in Cuba raised the flag over the building Friday for the first time in 54 years, marking the end of the countries' Cold War standoff. AFP PHOTO/Adalberto Roque (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) waves next to the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis (2-L) upon his arrival at Jose Marti international airport in Havana on August 14, 2015. Kerry visited Cuba on Friday to raise the US flag over the newly reopened embassy, sealing Washington's historic rapprochement with Havana. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban policemen patrol the surroundings of the US Embassy in Havana on August 13, 2015, a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cuba for re-opening the embassy. This is the first time in years that Cuban police takes bicycles for patrolling. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
HAVANA, CUBA - AUGUST 14: U.S. Embassy employees clean the seal of the United States after hanging it on the outside of the building a few hours before the ceremonial flag-raising August 14, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visited Havana Friday and raised 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 lone Cuban flag is raised inside the 'Wall of Flags' across the street from the U.S. Embassy August 13, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Cuba planted 138 flag poles in February 2006 in an attempt to obsucre an electronic message ticker on the outside of the U.S. Interests Section building. 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 Cuban policeman patrols the surroundings of the US Embassy in Havana on August 13, 2015, a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cuba for re-opening the embassy. This is the first time in years that Cuban police takes bicycles for patrolling. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers set up a dais at the US embassy during preparations for its inauguration, on August 12, 2015. The former US Interests Section became an embassy on July 20, but no US flag flies over the building until US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Cuba on August 14 and formally inaugurates it. AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
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SEE ALSO: 7 interesting facts about Cuba and Cuban-American relations

Meeting more than 54 years after the severing of diplomatic relations, Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez set an early September date for the start of talks on full normalization of a relationship so long frozen in enmity.

Not all the talk was as warm as the sunny summer day. Kerry and Rodriguez said their nations would continue to disagree over issues such as democracy and human rights. But they also said they hoped to make progress on issues ranging from maritime security and public health to the billions of dollars in dueling claims over confiscation of U.S. property and the U.S. economic embargo on the island.

It seemed that virtually all of Cuba was glued to television or listening by cellphone as Kerry directly addressed the island's people on political reform. That's a subject that has remained off-limits in Cuba even as the single-party government has implemented a series of economic reforms and re-established diplomatic ties with the U.S.

"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," Kerry said. He spoke before an audience of Cuban and U.S. diplomats on the embassy grounds and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of islanders watching and listening live.

SEE ALSO: Cuban life leading up to the closing of the U.S. Embassy:

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Old Cuba
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Kerry in Cuba as flag raised over US Embassy
CUBA - JANUARY 01: In the 1960's in Cuba, tractors and agricultural machines harvesting the sugar cane. This modern equipment facilitates the mechanization of Cuban agriculture. In spite of a planned economy installed in 1961, Cuba, number one world exporter of sugar, maintained its agricultural priorities from the previous period. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Fidel Castro's speech in La Habana. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Cuba : Hemingway, Ernest *21.07.1899-02.07.1961+ Writer, USA Winner of the nobel prize for literature 1954 - Hemingway's former house 'Finca Vigia' in San Francisco de Paula near Havana, Cuba, today a museum; exterior view - 1971 - Photographer: ullstein - Kanus (Photo by Kanus/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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Addressing reporters with Kerry after the ceremony, Rodriguez responded by indignantly opening his remarks with complaints of U.S. human rights transgressions - from police shootings of black men to mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base that Cuba says must be returned.

"Cuba isn't a place where there's racial discrimination, police brutality or deaths resulting from those problems," Rodriguez said. "The territory where torture occurs and people are held in legal limbo isn't under Cuban jurisdiction."

Many Cubans disagree with that assessment, including Afro-Cubans who say discrimination is still rampant despite the revolution's egalitarian ideals, and human rights groups who say regular, short-term arrests of government opponents aim to intimidate dissent and include beatings.

In New York, Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator from Florida, said he would reverse the Obama administration's new Cuba policy on his first day in office, arguing it gives the Castro government international legitimacy and more resources to repress its people.

Kerry acknowledged that the Obama administration would have a difficult fight in Congress to end the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba so that normal business ties between the two countries could resume.

"There is no way Congress will lift the embargo if we are not making progress on issues of conscience," Kerry said.

President Barack Obama also called for change in Cuba when he announced the new U.S. policy of engagement in December, but his words were less pointed than Kerry's in Havana.

Cuba formally reopened its Washington embassy last month. The U.S. raised its flag in Havana then, too, though saving the formal ceremony for Kerry's visit. Three Marines who took part in the flag-lowering in 1961 handed over the new flag to Marines who raised it on Friday.

Kerry was the first secretary of state to visit since 1945, and his speech was remarkable for its bluntness and the national spotlight in which it came.

Many Cubans lauded Kerry's call for reform, including greater access to technology on an island with one of the world's lowest rates of internet penetration. They paired their praise with calls for the United States to lift the 53-year-old trade embargo and allow easier travel between the two countries.

"More democracy, elections, we hope for that to come with this diplomatic opening," said Julio Garcia, a 51-year-old mechanic.

Self-employed graphic designers Danay Lopez, 28, and her husband Yosvel Martinez, 32, watched the ceremony with their 3-year-old son, singing both countries' national anthems and shouting "Long live Cuba!" and "Long live the United States!" as the event drew to a close.

"Kerry spoke about democracy, freedom, WiFi, and he's right," Lopez said. "We want all that to be freed up, but (also) for the U.S. to free up travel, and I don't want my son to live under the embargo."

Like Obama, Kerry said a longtime U.S. strategy of trying to isolate Cuba and provoke regime change by choking off trade and fomenting grass-roots agitation had failed.

"It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have a transformative impact in the short term," he said. "After all, Cuba's future is for Cubans to shape."

After speaking to reporters with Rodriguez, Kerry briefly walked Old Havana's historic Plaza de San Francisco with Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal, stopping to look in shops and greet local residents and store owners before heading to an afternoon flag-raising at the home of the embassy's chief of mission.

Dissidents were not invited to the embassy ceremony, avoiding tensions with Cuban officials who typically boycott events attended by the country's small political opposition. Dissidents were invited to the afternoon event.

Soon after Kerry was heading home Friday evening, diplomats who negotiated the July 20 embassy reopening will launch full-time into discussing how to bring about measures such as re-establishing direct flights and mail service.


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