Tourists stand next to a sign showing President Barack Obama, right, and Cuba’s President Raul Castro next to the Cathedral in Old Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama has landed in Cuba for a historic visit.
It’s a big step in efforts to forge new ties between the United States
and its one-time foe.
Air Force One just landed in Havana.
The President is traveling with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, as well as a group of American legislators and business leaders.
What’s on tap for the rest of the day? Obama will greet staff at the new US Embassy and then join his family for a tour of Old Havana.
Tomorrow, Obama will hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro and also hold an event with US and Cuban entrepreneurs.
Obama is the first US president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years.
President Barack Obama arrives with first lady Michelle Obama, left, and their daughters Sasha, right, and Malia, as they exit Air Force One at the airport in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP
US President Barack Obama
’s whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban President Raul Castro’s ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning.
What are Obama’s aims?
Obama is eager to push decades of acrimony deeper into the past and forge irreversible ties with America’s former adversary. Much of Obama’s visit was about appealing directly to the Cuban people and celebrating the island’s vibrant culture. A major focus for Obama was pushing his Cuba policy to the point it will be all but impossible for the next president to reverse it. That includes highlighting new business deals by American companies, including Starwood, which finalised an agreement on Sunday to renovate and run three hotels on the island. The Obama Administration also gave San Francisco-based online lodging service Airbnb a special license allowing travellers from around the world to book stays in private homes in Cuba.
Why is the visit historic?
For more than 50 years, Cuba was an unimaginable destination for a US president, as well as most American citizens. The US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution sparked fears of communism spreading to the Western Hemisphere. Domestic politics in both countries contributed to the continued estrangement well after the Cold War ended. The last visit to Cuba by a US president came in 1928, when Calvin Coolidge arrived on the island in a battleship.
Who is with Obama?
First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha on Air Force One, with dozens of US legislators and business leaders arriving separately. “Que bolá Cuba?” Obama wrote on Twitter – Spanish for “how’s it going?” Very few Cubans use Twitter. Facebook tends to be more popular.
What is his itinerary today?
His first stop was to be the new US Embassy in Havana, which was opened amid great fanfare last year. After greeting embassy staff, Obama and his family were to tour Old Havana by foot, including the Havana Cathedral. There Obama was to be greeted by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who helped facilitate months of secret talks between US and Cuban officials that led to the normalisation of diplomatic relations in December 2014. A highlight of Obama’s visit comes on Wednesday when he joins Raul Castro and a crowd of baseball-crazed Cubans for a game between the beloved national team and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. The President also plans a speech at the Grand Theatre of Havana laying out his vision for greater freedoms and more economic opportunity in Cuba. Castro planned to greet him on tomorrow at the Palace of the Revolution.
How are the Cubans reacting?
Obama was greeted by top Cuban officials, including Cuba’s Foreign Minister and US Ambassador. Workers furiously cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint. American flags were raised alongside the Cuban colours in parts of the capital. “This is an incredible thing,” said Carlos Maza, a 48-year-old refrigerator repairman from Havana. He called it “a big step forward”. Gustavo Machin, Cuba’s deputy director of US affairs, said: “I don’t think that the Cuban people are going to be bewitched by North American culture. We don’t fear ties with the United States
.” Hours before Obama’s arrival, counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration by the Ladies in White group, with government backers shouting insults and revolutionary slogans.
So are big crowds expected?
Many Cubans were staying home in order to avoid extensive closures of main boulevards. The Cuban Government didn’t appear to be calling out crowds of supporters to welcome Obama, as it has with other visiting dignitaries. The city’s seaside Malecon promenade was largely deserted except for a few cars, joggers, fishermen and pelicans.
What has been happening in Cuba?
Two years after taking power in 2008, Castro launched economic and social reforms that appear slow-moving to many Cubans and foreigners, but are lasting and widespread within Cuban society. The changes have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to work in the private sector and have relaxed limits on cellphones, Internet and Cubans’ comfort with discussing their country’s problems in public, for example. The Cuban Government has been unyielding, however, on making changes to its single-party political system and to the strict limits on media, public speech, assembly and dissent. Obama will spend some time talking with Cuban dissidents. The White House said such a meeting was a prerequisite for the visit. But there were no expectations that he would leave Cuba with significant pledges from the Government to address Washington’s human rights concerns.