“This is truly a memorable occasion, a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities,” Secretary Kerry told Cubans, marking the first time a U.S. secretary of state has visited the island nation since 1945.

Speaking in Havana August 14, Kerry said the 54-year rupture in diplomatic ties had proved ineffective for both countries, as well as their neighbors in the region. The secretary was joined by retired U.S. Marines Larry Morris, Jim Tracy and Mike East, who had lowered the U.S. flag from the embassy in 1961 and returned to formally raise it over the newly re-established mission.

“The establishment of normal diplomatic relations is not something that one government does as a favor to another. It is something that two countries do together when the citizens of both will benefit,” Kerry said. “The time is now to reach out to one another as two peoples who are no longer enemies or rivals, but neighbors … and let the world know that we wish each other well.”

President Obama announced his plan to end the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba on December 17, 2014. According to recent polling data, nearly 75 percent of Americans support the decision.

The United States recognizes Cuba’s government, but it will continue to support democratic and human rights reforms in the country, Kerry said.

The restoration of ties will make it easier for both governments to engage on many matters of mutual concern, including civil aviation, migration, the environment, and preparing for natural disasters and global climate change, he said.