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Cubans Ready To Welcome Influx Of American Visitors

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Preparations are underway at the U.S. Embassy in Havana for Friday's ceremonial raising of the American flag.

It will be the first time the 'stars and stripes' will fly over the building in 54 years.

Now that the ties between the countries are being restored, some Cubans are hoping the site of the "Bay of Pigs" invasion will become a new tourist destination for Americans.

The small town of Playa Girón on Cuba's southern coast has it all - pristine beaches, vibrant coral reefs and a laid back pace of life. What the area doesn't have, at least not yet, is many American visitors.

Luis Garcia rents out four bedrooms in his house to tourists. He is one of an increasing number of Cubans starting their own businesses, thanks to a greater acceptance of private commerce by the island's communist run government.

Garcia is building a second hotel around the corner to accommodate what he believes will be a surge in Americans visiting his town now that the U.S. has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba.

"Many people are getting their homes ready," said Garcia. "The future looks promising. If relations between the two countries become agreeable again, we will have a lot of tourism."

For more than 50 years relations between the two countries has been anything but agreeable, something residents of the area know all too well.

In 1961 a brigade of 1,300 CIA trained Cuban exiles landed to overthrow Fidel Castro. Cubans call the battle at Playa Girón, know in the U.S. as the "Bay of Pigs Invasion," a real victory.

A sign in the town marks the spot where Cuban soldiers halted the advance of the invading forces, the so-called mercenaries. The invasion was as close as the United States ever came to toppling Fidel Castro and to this day the area is considered to be hallowed ground of the Cuban revolution.

Road side monuments mark where Cuban soldiers died fighting, tanks greet visitors at the town's museum. The front wall of Elia Lopez's home is still riddled with bullet holes from the invasion.

"Around midnight we heard a lot of noise and we said what is this," she recalled. "And everyone was crying like I was because we thought the world was ending."

With Castro's victory over the U.S. the Cuban leader consolidated his power and Playa Girón became synonymous with resistance against American meddling.

Garcia said he supports the Cuban government but wants his town to become known as a place that welcomes Americans.

"I have waited a long time for this," said Garcia. "Hopefully everything that's been promised and that we hope for will happen. We Cubans - just like the Americans - do-feel this is the best solution."

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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