Secretary of State John Kerry was on hand to reopen the United States Embassy in Havana, Cuba — raising the flag over the building for the first time in 54 years.
The ceremony, which took place on Aug. 14, a month after the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., was reopened, included a speech by Kerry that was delivered in both English and Spanish.
“Thank you for joining us at this truly historic moment as we prepare to raise the flag ... symbolizing the restoration of diplomatic relations after 54 years,” he said, adding that the Cuban people “would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders.”
Despite the historic restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro released an open letter on Aug. 13 making no mention of the developments — instead claiming that the U.S. owed his country millions of dollars due to the 53-year-long embargo.
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Notably, anti-Castro dissidents were not welcome at the embassy ceremony. Rather, Kerry plans to meet with dissidents and human rights activists at a closed-door ceremony at the home of the U.S. chief of mission.
The decision was criticized by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose parents were Cuban immigrants.
“As a symbol of just how backward this policy shift has turned out to be, no Cuban dissidents have been invited to today's official flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana,” Rubio said during a speech in New York on Aug. 14.
“Cuba's dissidents have fought for decades for the very Democratic principles President (Barack) Obama claims to be advancing through these concessions. Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime."