President Obama and his family landed in Cuba on March 20, 2016, with first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters on his historic visit to the country. Obama has become the first US president to visit the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. The trip is another step between the two nations to normalize relations - a process that began in December 2014. On this three-day trip.
At the nearby Revolutionary Palace, Obama will then be officially welcomed to Cuba with full honors by President Raúl Castro on March 21 before addressing the Cuban people.
They will then meet for more than two hours before delivering statements at a public appearance together — another powerful image in a groundbreaking trip that has already shown both the promise and challenges of the openings between the former Cold War foes.
On Sunday, Obama and his family were greeted with chants of “USA! USA!” as they toured parts of Old Havana. The U.S. entourage also includes business leaders and government envoys hoping for footholds in the Cuban market — such as the deal by the Starwood hotel chain to manage three hotels on the island.
Starwood on Monday announced it was accepting a buyout bid from Marriott after a bidding war with a Chinese group.
But Obama’s trip — the first by a sitting U.S. president to Cuba since 1928 — has displayed the potential cross-currents for Cuba’s Communist leadership. It hopes to reap economic gains and other popular spinoffs from ties with the United States. But, at the same time, Cuba’s rulers want to keep tight controls over the pace of changes and any reform movements inspired by the openings with Washington.
Security forces Sunday broke up a march led by a well-know dissident group, Ladies in White, that appeared timed to coincide with Obama’s arrival. Some protesters yelled “Freedom!” as they were dragged away.
Unless the Cubans have a change of heart, there will be no joint news conference, despite a trip to Havana last Friday by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, to press the matter.
Obama’s schedule will take him into the heart of Cuban government power, where no U.S. president has been before.
The Martí monument is in a place as central to modern Cuban history as Moscow’s Red Square is to Russia’s. Over the decades, Soviet tanks and missiles rolled through during military parades, past the giant murals of fallen revolutionary heroes Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. Cuban government workers and students still dutifully file through every May Day.
The palace houses the offices of the Cuban president. It is a building that was almost surely targeted for annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, and long after that.
Later Monday, Obama will participate in a meeting between U.S. business leaders — part of the massive presence of Americans here this week — and Cuban entrepreneurs who are part of the private sector the administration hopes to aid with a loosening of the continuing U.S. trade embargo.
The meeting will be held at a cavernous beer brewery along the waterfront of Havana Bay.
It is a place with a clear view of the former Texaco oil refinery, nationalized by the Castro government when its managers refused to process the first shipments of Soviet crude in 1960, setting off a tit-for-tat that ended with the 1960 embargo that Obama now seeks to lift.
It was also there, in Havana Harbor, where the USS Maine exploded in 1898, launching an American invasion of Spanish-occupied Cuba and the Spanish-American War that briefly turned the island into a U.S. possession.
In the evening, Obama will return to the palace for a state dinner hosted by Raúl Castro.
On Sunday, rain that started as soon as Air Force One touched down at José Martí International Airport complicated plans for the first family. But Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters plunged ahead, under umbrellas, with an evening tour of Old Havana. They later dined in a paladar, one of the privately owned restaurants the administration is promoting on a trip that is part traditional diplomacy and capitalist boosterism.
Speaking to staff members at the U.S. Embassy on Sunday evening, Obama made a point of saying that the children who attended the session embodied the kind of generational shift he hopes will happen in the United States and Cuba in the years to come.
“That’s the future that we hope for — young American children, young Cuban children, by the time they’re adults, our hope is that they think it’s natural that a U.S. president should be visiting Cuba, they think it’s natural that the two peoples are working together,” he said.
But in the continuing political battles Obama left at home, Republicans who have questioned his rapprochement with Cuba were quick to criticize the trip.
Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), a Cuban American and one of the top contenders for the GOP presidential nomination this year, wrote in Politico magazine that Obama’s approach is contrary to the strategy that presidents such as Ronald Reagan used to topple dictatorial regimes.
“This is why it is so sad, and so injurious to our future as well as Cuba’s, that Obama has chosen to legitimize the corrupt and oppressive Castro regime with his presence on the island,” Cruz wrote.
GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who has said he is “fine” with closer Cuba ties, questioned why Castro was not at the airport for Obama’s arrival. “Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, and Raul Castro wasn’t even there to greet him,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “He greeted Pope and others. No respect.”
Although it is not normal diplomatic practice for state visits in most of the world, Castro greeted Pope Francis at the Havana airport when the pontiff made his first visit here in September, just as Obama did when Francis came to Washington days later.
Cuban television has covered much of Obama’s visit here live, and news of his arrival was at the top of the website of Granma, the Communist Party paper. In Old Havana, Cubans from the neighborhood and others allowed inside tight security chanted “USA” and cheered him.
On Tuesday, Obama will deliver a 40-minute address to the Cuban people, held at the National Theater and expected to be broadcast live here. Later that morning, one of the most tense moments of the visit will come when he is scheduled to hold a private meeting at the embassy with about a dozen of Cuba’s most prominent political dissidents.
Source: Washington Post