The Latest: Kerry walks through Old Havana


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

2:10 p.m.

With a rushed round of diplomatic events out of the way, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is walking in Old Havana’s historic Plaza de San Francisco, accompanied by Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal.

He’s stopping to look in shops and greet local residents and store owners.

Leal has overseen extensive restorations of Old Havana, which has become one of the country’s main tourist attractions.

2:05 p.m.

The top diplomats of Cuba and the U.S. are describing some of the hard issues that lie ahead following the raising of the U.S. flag over the Havana embassy after a 54-year diplomatic break. High among them are mutual claims for damages.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez says Cuba’s claims for damages caused by the long U.S. economic embargo must be considered at the same time as U.S. claims for property expropriated by the communist government. Each side estimates its claims run well into the billions of dollars.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says one thing not on the table is the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo in eastern Cuba. Cuba’s government has long demanded return of the enclave which was leased to the U.S. in 1903.

1:48 p.m.

Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington has no plans to alter migratory rules under which nearly all Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and apply for residency.

Havana has long called for an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy, which it says encourage islanders to attempt perilous water voyages to try to reach the United States.

The policies’ defenders in the United States call it immoral to return Cubans who have left the island seeking a better life.

1:30 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tells a news conference in Havana the U.S.-Cuba talks on “full normalization” of ties to will start in mid-September, building on the restoration of diplomatic relations after a 54-year break.

He says the goal now is to move toward a “full normalization” and it’s important to fully lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba, a step bitterly opposed by many conservatives in Congress.

Kerry says Cuban diplomats in Washington and American diplomats in Havana can now engage more openly with Cuban and American citizens. And he says no one should “fear the ideas of other people.”

1:15 p.m.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez is responding to the call for democracy issued by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with allusions to Cuba’s own criticism of the U.S. record.

Kerry said earlier Friday that “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.”

Rodriguez says the US and Cuba will continue to have profound differences over issues such as democracy and human rights and says Cuba’s proud of its record in human rights.

He says Cuba is not a place where people are subject to racial discrimination or police abuse, and says Cuba has no control of another country’s territory where people are tortured — a reference to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo in eastern Cuba.

1:10 p.m.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez says at a news conference he has spoken with U.S. secretary of state about further advancing relations. Rodriguez says the two top diplomats discussed improving U.S.-Cuban cooperation on environmental protection, law enforcement and other matters. He says “very complex” matters remain.

But representatives of both governments will begin talks in the coming weeks to look for paths of progress.

Rodriguez says that in Cuba, authorities don’t practice torture or create civilian casualties through military operations overseas. And men and women receive equal pay for the same job.

11:05 a.m.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is calling Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Cuba “a birthday present for Fidel Castro — a symbol of the Obama administration’s acquiescence to his ruthless legacy.”

The former Florida governor says in a statement that Kerry’s decision not to invite Cuban dissidents to the embassy flag-raising ceremony is “especially insulting.”

Kerry plans to meet with dissidents later Friday at the ambassador’s residence because the U.S. believed having such a meeting be the first official act of the new embassy would anger the Cuban government.

Bush says if he were president he would “reverse Obama’s strategy of accommodation and appeasement and commit to helping the Cuban people claim their freedom.”

Fidel Castro is retired and turned 89 years old on Thursday.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.