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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The American flag is flying in Cuba for the first time in 54 years as Secretary of State John Kerry was on the streets, meeting the people of the island nation.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cuban delegates, dissidents and toured the streets of Cuba following the historic re-opening of the American Embassy in Havana.
Earlier in the day, the American flag not flown in the island nation for decades, went up in a matter of seconds.
The same marines who lowered the flag in 1961 presented Old Glory to the new generation to raise it on that barren flagpole shortly after 10:30 a.m. as the U.S. national anthem played in the background.
Kerry’s speech before the raising of the flag, went with the theme of re-connection.
“Jose Marti once said that everything divides men is a sin against humanity. Clearly the events of the past, the harsh words, the provocative and retaliatory actions, the human tragedies, all have been a source of deep division that has diminished our common humanity,” said Kerry.
Though he promised the U.S. would not forget the past, and the struggles of the Cuban people, he reiterated the goal of the newly established relations.
“Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape…..The leaders in Havana and the Cuban people should also know the United States will always remain a champion of Democratic principles and reforms,” said Kerry. “The goal of all of these changes is to help Cubans connect to the world and improve their lives.”
The secretary of state said President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro,”made a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.”
Kerry said the time to consider Cuba as an enemy is over.
“The time is now to reach out to each other as people who are no longer enemies nor rivals but neighbors,” he said.
The secretary of state was accompanied by a delegation made up of 19 members.
Before that, Cuban-American poet, and South Florida native, Richard Blanco read a poem titled Matters of the Sea at the ceremony.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis also gave a few welcoming words.
While Kerry was at the event, the Cuban leader Raul Castro and his brother Fidel were not there and were not scheduled to meet with him. Also on the list of those who did not attend were dissidents from Cuba who were not invited. Kerry was set to meet with them separately later in the day.
While some are happy about the renewed relations, some Cuban-American leaders in South Florida are appalled.
Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said on Friday during an appearance in New York, “President Obama has rewarded a Castro regime for its repressive tactics and its persistent patient opposition to American interests. He has unilaterally given up on a half century worth of policies towards the Castro regime that was agreed upon by Presidents of both parties, he has ensured that regime will receive international legitimacy and a substantial economic boost to benefit its repression of the Cuban people which has only increased, increased since the new policy was announced.”
Shortly before the ceremony, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart issued a statement on the matter saying in part, “It is shameful that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have stooped so low as to publicly choose the Castro regime over the Cuban people, and exclude Cuba’s brave leaders from a U.S.-hosted event at our post in Havana.”
Despite the White House led changes, only Congress has the power to lift the trade embargo against Cuba and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will fight against it with every power she has. She called Kerry’s speech heartbreaking.
“But did he say ‘Mr. Castro have elections, no, in fact, he called him President Castro. Since when has Castro been president,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
CBS4’s Rick Folbaum is in Cuba with continuing coverage.
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