After 50 years of severed ties between Cuba and the U.S., top American officials are heading to Havana to discuss ending sanctions that have crippled the island nation’s economy.

In December, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his government would be easing travel and trade restrictions -- a historic policy change that took many by surprise.

The diplomatic thaw is expected to have far-reaching effects for Cuba, the U.S. and Canada.

For the past five decades, Cuba has been off-limits for U.S. tourists. Some are saying they welcome the change.

“It will be easier for us to come and be with these wonderful people in Cuba,” one U.S. tourist in Havana told CTV News.

It’s a breakthrough that is also welcomed by Cubans.

“I am not against the changes, to improve the lives of people,” said Cuban cab driver Fabio Pinero.

He added: “We need to discover the United States people again, because we haven’t had full contact with them since maybe 60 years ago.”

For decades, Cuba has seemingly remained frozen in time, but President Raul Castro -- brother Fidel’s successor -- is trying to move away from its old Soviet-style economy, which relies on help from Russia and Venezuela.

Now Cuba is looking to the U.S. for investment, but how the transformation will unfold is uncertain. Many believe Raul Castro will move slowly.

Jake Colvin, of the U.S. National Foreign Trade Council, says there’s a “healthy skepticism of capitalism” among the Cuban people.

“My sense is they don’t want a Starbucks on every corner,” Colvin said.

Canada has maintained strong ties with Cuba, but some Canadian tourists worry about the country’s future.

“Cuba has an old flair to it. When the Americans come here they’re going to Americanize this … they’re going to have like McDonald’s, and Pizza Huts,” said a tourist from Montreal. “(Cuba will) lose its true flavour.”

But many Cubans believe it is the kind of investment their country needs.

“I think the revolution is changing for better,” one man told CTV News.

Obama is expected to announce more details on U.S.-Cuban relations in Tuesday’s state of the union speech in Washington.

On Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will travel to Cuba for negotiations. She will be the most senior diplomat to visit the country in 38 years.

With a report by CTV’s Richard Madan in Havana