HAVANA (AP) — The U.S. flag is flying at the U.S. Embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961.

The Stars and Stripes was raised to cheers and the playing of the U.S. National Anthem at the diplomatic mission next to the Florida Straits.

In remarks at the ceremony, Secretary of State John Kerry called for political opening in communist-run Cuba. He said, "We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas (and) practice their faith."

However, Kerry adds that past U.S. policies have not led to democracy. He says "Cuba's future is for Cubans to shape."

He also made brief remarks in Spanish, saying the diplomatic opening will be good for the people of both Cub and the U.S. Kerry says "There is nothing to fear."

Hundreds of Cubans were among those who gathered to see today's historic raising of the U.S. flag over the building for the first time in 54 years.

One man voiced the hopes of many on the island when he said the normalization of ties might bring "social and economic benefits for all Cubans."

Giant Cuban flags were hanging from the balconies of nearby apartment buildings and people gathered at their windows with a view of the embassy.

Kerry’s visit maked him the first U.S. secretary of state to visit that country since 1945. Cuban TV broadcast his arrival at Havana's airport live, after switching away from cartoons for coverage of the embassy flag-raising.