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.”