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Flag flies over U.S. Embassy in Cuba – now what?

Secretary of State John Kerry led a delegation of U.S. officials to the office building housing the U.S. Embassy in the capital Havana for a flag-raising event on Friday, marking a new era in U.S.-Cuban relations.

It was a long time coming — 54 years since the U.S. severed ties with Cuba and closed the embassy. It reopened in 1977 in a scaled-back capacity known as the U.S. Interests Section under the protection of the Embassy of Switzerland.

After President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the normalizing of relations in December, negotiations led to the U.S. Interests Section switching back to its embassy designation.

On July 20, the Cuban Embassy reopened in Washington, D.C., with its own flag-raising event.

Watch Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks and the flag ceremony in Havana.

Now that both embassies are operational again, what about the unresolved issues of the trade embargo, the future of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, and the decades of mistrust?

While recognizing the symbolic importance of Friday’s event, Carlos Alzugaray Treto, a professor at the University of Havana and former Cuban Foreign Service officer, said many Cubans are still concerned that this is a new U.S. strategy to try to change Cuba’s Communist regime, a sort of “killing me softly” approach, he told reporters in a conference call.

But the more the two governments work together, he said, the more the public perception could change.

Skepticism exists in certain pockets in the United States as well. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban American and vocal critic of President Obama’s policies on Cuba, has threatened to block the confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

Congress also must approve the overturning of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, the universally recognized sign that relations have indeed thawed.

Jake Colvin, vice president of global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, said in the same conference call that Cuba is interested in foreign investment and trade with the U.S., but it’s hard to read the Cuban government’s priorities.

And U.S. businesses are enthusiastic about entering Cuba, but they aren’t sure the extent that they can engage under the U.S. government’s new terms.

“Everyone’s still in the getting-to-know-you stage,” he said.

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