Barack Obama is on a historic visit to Cuba becoming the first US president to visit the country in 88 years.
Touching down in Havana for a trip aimed at ending decades of Cold War animosity, Obama tweeted, “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people”.
Obama along with his wife First Lady Michelle and their two daughters Sasha and Malia arrived in Havana on Sunday. He was greeted on the tarmac by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
Obama’s three-day trip is a crowning moment for both countries to restore normal relations. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro look at the visit as a beginning to end the hostilities post the Cold-War era. While deep differences persist, the economic and political relationship has changed rapidly in the 15 months since the leaders vowed a new beginning.
Obama is not only the first sitting US president since Fidel Castro’s guerrillas overthrew the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, but the first since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Seeking to leave a historic foreign policy mark in his final year in office, Obama will hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro later today. The two leaders will discuss trade and political reforms. But Obama has no plans to meet the former Cuban President and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
Obama will also meet political dissidents and will address Cubans live on the state-run media.
On Sunday, he toured the newly reopened US embassy. He also toured the old town of Havana. It is said he will attend a baseball game before leaving later today. Much of Obama’s visit is about
appealing directly to the Cuban people and celebrating the island’s vibrant culture.
“It is wonderful to be here. Back in 1928 President Coolidge came on a battleship. It took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours…But most of all I want to thank all of you who embodied the spirit of friendship and partnership that brings us together today. We’ve got a lot of proud Americans here but we also have a lot of proud Cubans,” said President Obama.
For Cubans dreaming of escaping isolation and reinvigorating their threadbare economy, the visit has created huge excitement.
“A president of the United States in Cuba arriving in Havana on his Air Force One,” wrote popular Cuban writer Leonardo Padura on the Cafefuerte blog.
“Never in my dreams or nightmares could we have imagined that we’d see such a thing.”
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.
(With inputs from PTI)