US Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Cuba to raise the American flag in the newly reopened US embassy, more than 54 years after it was closed and the flag was lowered.
Kerry’s arrival in Havana on Friday to raise the US flag is a symbolic step of normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.
The American embassy in Havana, as well as the Cuban embassy in Washington, has been open since July 20, when Cuba and the US restored diplomatic relations.
Kerry is the highest US government official to visit Cuba in 70 years when Franklin D. Roosevelt was US president.
The top American diplomat is accompanied by a number of US lawmakers and Cuban-Americans who have advocated normalizing diplomatic and economic relations with the island.
US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, announced the historic rapprochement between their two countries in December after 18 months of secret talks between officials from the two nations.
The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, two years after Raul’s older brother, Fidel Castro, came to power at the height of the Cold War.
The US sponsored a failed invasion and attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, who led Cuba from its 1959 revolution until his retirement in 2006.
Despite the restoration of ties, tensions remain between Washington and Havana and US economic sanctions that were imposed on Cuba in 1962 remain in place.
Obama has called for the lifting of the embargo, but he faces an uphill battle with both chambers of Congress controlled by his Republican opponents, who are largely deeply hostile to communist Cuba.
During his 89th birthday on Thursday, Fidel Castro said Washington owes “millions of dollars” to Havana because of the decades-long illegal US sanctions.
The revolutionary leader did not detail exactly how much money he believed was due, but Cuba said in September the half-century-old embargo had cost it $116 billion.
Other unresolved sources of tension include the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which contains a notorious military prison to hold terror suspects.
The US occupied Guantanamo Bay during the Spanish–American War in 1898 and has leased the bay since 1903.