“It’s an historic day, a day for removing barriers,” Secretary of State John Kerry said July 20 as the United States and Cuba marked the reopening of embassies in each other’s countries and the resumption of normal diplomatic ties after 54 years.

Briefly speaking in Spanish, Kerry said the Obama administration welcomes the new beginning in its relationship with Cuba’s people and government, and it is determined to have good and neighborly relations on the basis of mutual respect. Cubans and Americans can look forward to the future with hope, he said.

President Obama said July 1 that neither the Cuban nor American people have to be “imprisoned by the past,” and both are best served by engagement rather than isolation.

With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life,” the president said.

Secretary Kerry said he will visit Cuba August 14 to celebrate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

“I thank our friends around the [Western] Hemisphere who have urged us – in some cases for decades – to restore our diplomatic ties and who have warmly welcomed our decision to do so,” he said.

Looking ahead, “both governments must proceed in a spirit of openness and mutual respect. I can assure the world, including the people of Cuba, that the United States will do its part,” Kerry said.