President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, centre, during their arrival at the airport in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is taking Cuban President Raul Castro to task for not welcoming US President Barack Obama at the airport in Havana.
Trump tweeted: “Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, and Raul Castro wasn’t even there to greet him. He greeted Pope and others. No respect.”
Trump has said if elected president he would try to negotiate a better deal with Cuba, but has also said he’s “fine” with the US pursuing a new approach. His top GOP rival, Ted Cruz, is the son of a Cuban and opposes Obama’s policy.
Castro makes relatively few public appearances. But Castro did greet Pope Francis on arrival during a September trip to Cuba and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill last month.
Obama says his trip to Cuba is an “historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people”.
Obama spoke to a few dozen embassy staff and families at a Havana hotel in his first stop after arriving in Cuba. He noted that an American president hasn’t stepped foot in Cuba in nearly 90 years.
Obama is recalling former President Calvin Coolidge’s visit in 1928, when he arrived in a battleship. Obama says it took Coolidge three days to get to Cuba, but only took him three hours.
Obama is singling out three Cubans who have worked at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba for decades: a guard, driver and a worker from the visa section. He says they bring the Cuban and American people together. Before the US reopened its embassy, it had only a U.S. interests sections in Havana.
Obama is thanking people for bringing their children to meet him, saying he hopes that by the time they’re adults, they’ll “think it’s natural that a US president is visiting Cuba”.
Obama’s first message to Cubans after landing in Havana came in an unlikely format: Twitter.
“Que bolá Cuba?” Obama wrote – Spanish for “how’s it going?” He sent the message from his @POTUS account, which the White House has said consists of tweets from the president, not his staff.
Very few Cubans use Twitter. Despite the opening of dozens of public Wi-Fi spots across the country since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to restore relations in 2014, Cuba still has one of the world’s lowest rates of Internet use. Wi-Fi costs US$2 an hour, close to a tenth of the average Cuban monthly salary. Facebook tends to be more popular here than Twitter.
Obama’s events while in Cuba will take place almost entirely in Cuban government sites with tightly controlled guest lists. Some Cubans complained ahead the trip that they will not get to see or interact with the president.