This Jan. 25, 2006 file photo shows Cuba's President Fidel Castro speaking with journalists below an electronic billboard scrolling messages extolling democracy and human rights inside the U.S. (AP/Javier Galeano, File)
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A half-century after Washington severed relations with Cuba, the United States' seven-story mission looms over Havana's seaside Malecon boulevard as the largest diplomatic outpost in the country.The gleaming U.S. Interests Section suddenly is poised to become an even more important presence in Cuba as the two countries negotiate the first phase of their historic detente -- transforming the complex into a full embassy that would reflect the Obama administration's hopes of new influence on the communist island.Diplomats say privately that Washington hopes to boost staffing in Havana, currently at about 50 Americans and 300 Cuban workers, as more American travelers and trade delegates are expected to come here under new rules to be set by the White House softening the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.An agreement could also ease or scrap rules that require U.S. diplomats to channel all requests through Cuba's Foreign Ministry; the diplomats would be able to deal directly with at least some other branches of government.After the break, Washington was without a presence in Cuba until 1977, when the interests sections were opened under President Jimmy Carter.
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