Obama becomes the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years

President Barack Obama arrived in
Cuba on Sunday on a historic visit, opening a new chapter in U.S.
engagement with the Cuban Communist government after almost 10 decades
of animosity between both countries.

Obama landed at Havana’s Jose Marti
International Airport aboard Air Force One, the presidential jet with
“United States of America” emblazoned across it. The president
immediately tweeted that he had touched down in Cuba.

Stepping down onto the red carpet
under the rain, Obama and his family were greeted by Cuban Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the top Cuban official present but the current
president, Raul Castro wasn’t there to meet him. Raul Castro will meet
Obama at a formal welcoming ceremony which will be on Monday at the
presidential palace.

Of course Donald Trump had something to say about Raul Castro not meeting Obama right away.


Obama traveled with his wife,
the first lady Michelle Obama, her mother and their daughters, Sasha and
Malia, the first family first met with staff of the newly reopened U.S.
Embassy at a Havana hotel.

The president said:

‘Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship, it took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours.

‘Having a US embassy means we’re more effectively able to advance our values, our interests and understand more effectively.

‘This is a historic visit and a
historic opportunity. I know it’s been a pretty busy seven months. But I
want you to know, everything we’ve accomplished so far, it’s all
happening because of you. Every day you’re bringing the US and Cuba
closer together.’

Speaking to diplomatic staff, he added:

‘I’m so glad you brought your
families here because I always like taking pictures with kids. Their
future is what we all work for so hard and I’m so grateful to all of you
for making it happen.’ 

The three-day trip, the first by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years,
is the culmination of a diplomatic opening announced by Obama and Castro
in December 2014, ending a Cold War-era estrangement that began when
the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959.

The Obamas then took in the sights
of Old Havana, drawing cheers from small crowds of Cubans and foreign
tourists. Obama was also hosted on a tour of Havana’s 18th century
cathedral by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who played a key role in secret
talks that led to the rapprochement 15 months ago.

“It’s a historic opportunity to engage directly with the Cuban people,” Obama told U.S. diplomats.

This visit makes Obama the first sitting American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928.

Before Obama arrived,the Cuban police, backed by hundreds of
pro-government demonstrators, broke up the regular march of a leading
dissident group, the Ladies in White, detaining about 50 people.

The Cuban people are hoping Obama
would advice Cuban president Raul Castro to treat people more humanely,
create jobs, freedom and create basic human rights to Cubans.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, said from his home Saturday that he hoped Obama
would deliver a strong message to the Cubans. His commission has
documented a rise in arrests following Cuba’s opening with the U.S. so
he said he has no reason to think the arrests will stop just because
Obama was coming to town.

“Neither President Obama, nor the Cuban people, expect spectacular
changes,” Sanchez said. “These kinds of regimes are repressive. It’s
necessary to maintain their power. So no matter what Obama says or does,
it’s impossible to put a good face on the human rights situation here
in Cuba.”

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