U.S. flag raised over American embassy in Cuba

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HAVANA — The latest on ceremonies to raise the U.S. flag over the embassy in Havana after 54 years of broken diplomatic relations:

UPDATED 10:55 a.m.: The live broadcast of Kerry’s critical remarks about Cuban democracy recalls the day in May 2002 when Cuban state media gave unprecedented live coverage to a speech by visiting former President Jimmy Carter.

He told Cubans that their country did not meet international standards of democracy and repeatedly promoted a grass-roots campaign for greater civil liberties.

The speech was a dramatic goodwill concession by Cuban President Fidel Castro toward the former American president who did more than any other to try to ease tensions between their two nations.

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Carter told viewers that democracy “is based on some simple premises: All citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups and to have fair and open trials.”

He noted that the Cuban constitution “recognizes freedom of speech and association.” But added, “other laws deny these freedoms to those who disagree with the government.”

UPDATED 10:54 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged Western Hemisphere nations for supporting an encouraging rapprochement between Havana and Washington.

In remarks at a flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Kerry says “I want to sincerely thank leaders from throughout the Americas who have long urged the United States and Cuba to restore normal ties.”

UPDATED 10:48 a.m.: At least one Cuban who witnessed the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana agrees with Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for change to the island nation’s one-party political system.: Julio Garcia is a 51-year-old mechanic. He says he would like to see “more democracy, elections. We hope for that to come with this diplomatic opening.”

He was among a group of Cubans who cheered as the flag-raising symbolically re-opened the embassy.

UPDATED 10:40 a.m.: The U.S. flag is flying at the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961.

The Stars and Stripes was raised to cheers and the playing of the U.S. National Anthem at the diplomatic mission next to the Florida Straits.

UPDATED 10:35 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for political opening in communist-run Cuba.

Kerry says “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 (and) practice their faith.”

However, Kerry adds that past U.S. policies have not led to democracy.

He says “Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape.”

UPDATED 10:30 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made brief remarks in Spanish to say the diplomatic opening will be good for the people of both Cub and the U.S.

Kerry says “There is nothing to fear.”

UPDATED 10:15 a.m.: The United States’ chief diplomat in Havana is addressing the crowd at a flag-raising ceremony for the newly rechristened embassy.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis says the day marks “the beginning of a new chapter” on the path toward normalizing diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington.

He it is “a long, complex road to travel, but it is the right road.”

UPDATED 9:45 a.m.: Three marines who lowered the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when the United States and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations in 1961 are back to see the Stars and Stripes raised once again.

Mike East was one of them. According to a U.S. State Deparment blog post, he says “It was a touching moment.”

In his words, To see Old Glory flying for the last time in Cuba, it was . just didn’t seem right.”

Larry Morris said he was stationed in Cuba for just four and a half months, but he “enjoyed the people and Cuba better than any place I’ve ever been.”

UPDATED 9:10 a.m.: Cuban television has switched from cartoons to live coverage of the U.S. embassy flag-raising, broadcasting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival at Havana’s Jose Marti airport followed by a detailed biography of Kerry’s career.

It notes his service in Vietnam, his presidential run and work as secretary of state.

The state television network informs viewers that Kerry “is a Roman Catholic, likes bicycling, surfing and windsurfing” and is a fan of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

UPDATED 9:00 a.m.: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Havana for an historic ceremony to raise the U.S. flag over a restored U.S. Embassy in the Cuban capital. It’s the first time a U.S. secretary of state has visited the nearby nation since 1945.

UPDATED 8:55 a.m.: Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is the son of anti-Castro Cuban immigrants and he’s blasting the Obama administration’s decision to reopen the embassy in Havana.

In prepared remarks from New York, he says the opening has ensured the socialist Cuban “regime will receive international legitimacy and a substantial economic boost to benefit its repression.”

UPDATED 8:45 a.m.: Among those gathering in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana are the drivers of three 1950s-era Chevrolets that are parked outside the building.

Julio Alvarez heads the custom cab company that operates them and he says the State Department had invited him to send them without saying why. Alvarez says he’s hoping that Kerry will take a ride in one of the classic U.S. cars that have become emblematic of Cuba for tourists.

UPDATED 8:25 a.m.: Some 200 Cubans already have gathered near the U.S. Embassy along Havana’s seafront Malecon boulevard ahead of the official ceremony to raise the U.S. flag over the building for the first time in 54 years.

Twenty-eight-year-old Marcos Rodriguez says he’s come “because I wouldn’t want to miss it.” He voices the hopes of many on the island, expressing “hope for social and economic benefits for all Cubans.”

Giant Cuban flags hang from the balconies of nearby apartment buildings and people have gathered at their windows with a view of the embassy.

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