Cubans hope reopening of U.S. Embassy leads to new life

HAVANA, Cuba -- Friday's flag-raising at the newly reopened American Embassy in Cuba was a moment filled with symbolism and a crucial step in changing U.S.-Cuban relations.

The tiny nation just 90 miles from Florida remains an island stuck in the past but with big dreams for its future.

There is nostalgia among the small but growing number of American visitors to Havana for life before the U.S. and Cuba became Cold War foes.

They hitch rides in the classic cars, search for the high life romanticized by Ernest Hemingway and visit the tobacco shops that hand-roll Cuba's famous cigars.

Even John Kerry -- the first secretary of state to visit in 70 years -- stopped at one during his landmark trip to Havana.

But Cubans, many of whom gathered to watch the American flag go up at the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years, are clamoring for the future.

Expectations have also been raised. Many of the Cubans CBS News spoke to hope this change is more than symbolic.

They hope this reopening will change everyday life. Many see a country in disrepair with limited communications and very little economic opportunity.

A Cuban doctor told us she was eager to share medical expertise with her American counterparts. Shopkeepers hope Americans will buy goods and eat at the private restaurants they've only recently been allowed to own. And the two governments plan to work on drug enforcement and maritime security.

Josefina Vidal, the director of U.S. affairs at the Cuban foreign ministry, said the opening of the embassy is more than just symbolic.

"No. No. It's just the first step," Vidal said.

She told us these small steps will test whether relations can ever really be normal and if the U.S. trade embargo will be lifted.

"It will take time, but I think the most important thing is that we are willing to do that and the Cuban government is willing to do that," Vidal said.

The flag-raising was a symbolic end to a decades-long standoff but also one of those rare moments when hope and history meet.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Margaret Brennan is moderator of CBS News' "Face The Nation" and CBS News' senior foreign affairs correspondent based in Washington, D.C.