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There's Little To See, But Cubans Gather Outside U.S. Embassy


It was history in the making - the U.S. and Cuba reopened their embassies yesterday, formally restoring relations after more than five decades of tensions. In Havana, dozens of Cubans and tourists rushed to watch the event, and among those braving the scorching summer sun was NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mario Lazaro Garcia waited years for this historic day, and he had the clothes to prove it - wearing a sleeveless white shirt emblazoned with the U.S. flag that he said had been in the family for a decade. Lazaro stood for hours in front of the rusted metal steel gate that surrounds the now U.S. Embassy on Havana's storied oceanfront, Malecon Boulevard.

MARIO LAZARO GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I'm just hoping that things get a little bit better here," he says. "That's if the Cuban government will be a little less harsh and less rigid," he adds. "The youth of this country deserves more."

LAZARO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Lazaro chokes up when he mentions his 5-year-old granddaughter. He says, "we've sacrificed enough as older people. It's time for them to have a better future." Cubans were joined by dozens of tourists who milled about, snapping pictures.

LUCIA NUNEZ: It's exciting. We didn't realize we were going to be here for the opening of the embassy, but it's totally exciting.

KAHN: Lucia Nunez, from Wisconsin, was visiting the island for the first time since her family left when she was a young child. She brought her two kids and their three friends. Everyone was waiting for the U.S. flag to be raised on the embassy's empty flagpole. But despite a few staff members dressed in red-white-and-blue coming out to talk with people milling around the building, there was to be no flag-raising or ceremonies. That would have to wait until later this summer, when Secretary of State John Kerry comes to Cuba. However, for most Cubans, many who queued up before dawn at a shady park down the street, the change to a full-functioning embassy was not that important, it was business as usual.

UNIDENTIFIED VENDOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Street vendors peddled everything from avocados to ice cream. Seventy-five-year-old Irma Diaz knew the embassy was reopening, but she came down to get word whether her request for a residency visa was approved.

IRMA DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "No one really knows if life here will get better now that relations with the U.S. are improving," says Diaz. "It's a big question mark, and we just have to wait and see." She's not waiting around to find out. Diaz got her U.S. visa approved. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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