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article imageU.S. embassy in Havana opens to a day 'like any other'

By AFP     Jul 20, 2015 in World

At the US mission in Havana, there were few outward signs Monday of its new status as an American embassy and the epochal shift in relations with Cuba after a 54-year break.

The former US Interests Section became an embassy just after midnight, but no US flag will fly over the building on Havana's waterfront Malecon until US Secretary of State John Kerry visits August 14.

When the embassy's doors opened at 8:00 am, a line had formed outside an entrance for visa seekers -- as it does every morning.

The only perceptible change: a small printed sign, surmounted by a small US flag, that read "Embassy of the United States, Havana, Cuba, July 20."

Security outside the embassy has been slightly reduced, an agent told AFP. About 30 journalists milled about outside, alert to the least sign of movement.

The mission's Twitter and Facebook accounts have been changed, and a new Internet website (http://havana.usembassy.gov) was up and running.

A Cuban woman lines up at the US embassy in Havana to get a visa to travel to the US  on July 20  20...
A Cuban woman lines up at the US embassy in Havana to get a visa to travel to the US, on July 20, 2015
Adalberto Roque, AFP

"It's a workday like any other," a source at the mission told AFP, adding that embassy staff were busy changing letterheads on their correspondence.

Embassy employees were mostly closed-mouthed as they arrived for work.

"It's an historic day," said one consular service employee who only gave his first name Jeffrey, while another assured reporters they would celebrate the change of status once inside.

Lazaro Alfredo Judigueiro, a 54-year-old businessman, stood outside the embassy with a banner that read: "Welcome USA."

"It's a symbol of joy, of a light that is being lit," he said of the restoration of US-Cuban relations.

Some American tourists also dropped by to see history being made.

"I wanted to come and see," said Katy Miller, 34, a researcher from Missouri, adding that Cubans she had met had talked of nothing but Monday, July 20 -- when Washington and Havana formally restored diplomatic ties.

Lisa Fragoso, of Los Angeles, waved an American flag and took a picture of herself outside the embassy. "I'm proud to be American," she said.

A Cuban flag is hoisted in front of the US embassy in Havana on July 20  2015 as diplomatic relation...
A Cuban flag is hoisted in front of the US embassy in Havana on July 20, 2015 as diplomatic relations between the two countries resume
Adalberto Roque, AFP

Cesar Martinez, a 21-year-old student from Texas, said he was pleased to see the attention the embassy was getting.

"Great to see so many cameras -- Americans and Cubans in the same place together," he said.

At dawn, 18-year-old Cuban Adriel Gonzales had the honor of raising the Cuban flag outside the US embassy.

"It's a day to be celebrated, it's an important day that will bring new opportunities," he said.

The Cuban embassy in Washington was inaugurated Monday with pomp and ceremony, but the Americans have decided to wait until Kerry's visit for a public celebration in Havana.

On that occasion, a new plaque will be unveiled and the US flag will be raised for the first time since diplomatic relations were severed in 1961.

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