President Barack Obama arrived to small but cheering crowds on Sunday in the beginning of a historic visit to Cuba that opened a fresh chapter in U.S. engagement with the island’s Communist government after decades of hostility between your former Cold War foes.
The three-day trip, the first by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years, may be the culmination of a diplomatic opening announced by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014, ending an estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959.
"It’s a historic possibility to engage directly with the Cuban people," Obama told staff at the newly reopened U.S. Embassy who were gathered at a hotel, his first stop after arriving in the afternoon.
Sets of Cubans watched the motorcade from balconies and backyards as Obama was driven downtown, in which a small crowd of Cubans braved a tropical downpour and tight security. They chanted: "Viva Obama, Viva Fidel," as the president and his family left after eating dinner in a rundown neighborhood.
Obama, who abandoned a longtime U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba, really wants to make his policy shift irreversible even if a Republican wins the White House in the Nov. 8 election.
But major obstacles remain to full normalization of ties, and the Democratic president’s critics say the visit is premature. U.S. officials concede the trip might not yield immediate concessions from Cuba on rights and economic freedom.
On Sunday, one bystander shouted: "Down with the blockade," in mention of the U.S. embargo set up for 54 years that remains the very best irritant for Cubans. Obama, who taken care of immediately the shout by raising his right hand, has asked Congress to rescind the embargo but has been blocked by the Republican leadership.
Underscoring the ideological divide that persists between Washington and Havana, Cuban police, backed by a huge selection of pro-government demonstrators, split up the standard march of a respected dissident group, the Women in White, detaining about 50 people just hours before Obama arrived.
Obama attained Havana’s Jose Marti AIRPORT TERMINAL in Air Force One, the presidential jet with "USA of America" emblazoned across its fuselage, a sight almost unimaginable recently on the island, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
He was met by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the very best Cuban official present. The formal welcoming ceremony will be on Monday when Obama meets the Cuban president at the presidential palace.
U.S. officials appeared unfazed by Castro’s absence from the airport welcome, despite the fact that he personally met and greeted Pope Francis in September. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump tweeted that Obama’s visit was a “big deal” but that he got “no respect.”
Obama will hold talks with Castro — however, not his brother Fidel, the brand new leader — and talk with entrepreneurs on Monday. He meets privately with dissidents, addresses Cubans go on state-run media and attends an exhibition baseball game on Tuesday.
The trip carries both symbolism and substance after decades of hostility between Washington and Havana.
Traveling with first lady Michelle Obama, her mother and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, Obama took in the sights of the colonial-era neighborhood and was presented with a tour of Havana’s 18th century cathedral by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who played a job in secret talks that resulted in the rapprochement 15 months ago.
The Obamas dined at the San Cristobal restaurant, run by an Afro-Cuban within a cautious opening to private enterprise since Fidel Castro handed capacity to his brother in 2008.
The trip makes Obama the first sitting American president to go to Cuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928 and could help chip away at barriers to U.S.-Cuba trade and travel.
Since rapprochement, both sides have restored diplomatic ties and signed commercial deals on telecommunications and scheduled airline service.
Obama has used executive authority to loosen trade and travel restrictions to advance his outreach to Cuba, one of is own top foreign policy priorities combined with the Iran nuclear deal.
Cuba still complains about U.S. control of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay under a 1934 lease agreement that Havana says is no more valid and that Obama has said isn’t up for discussion. Havana is unhappy with U.S. support for dissidents and anti-communist radio and TV programs beamed into Cuba.
Talking with reporters, Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment minister Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz stated before the U.S. president’s arrival that Obama’s regulatory moves "go in the proper direction." But he added: "We can’t reach a normalization of relations with the blockade still in place."
The Americans subsequently criticize one-party rule and repression of political opponents, a concern that aides said Obama would address publicly and privately.
Obama’s critics in the home accuse him of earning way too many concessions for inadequate in exchange from the Cuban government and of using his visit to take an unearned "victory lap."
Obama’s first words to the Cuban people came in a note on Twitter, a social media service that few Cubans may use regularly due to government restrictions on Access to the internet.
“¿Qué bolá Cuba?” he said, using Cuban slang for “what’s up?”
“Just touched down here, pumped up about meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
Little progress on the primary issues is expected when Obama and Castro meet on Monday or at circumstances dinner that evening.
Instead, the highlights will tend to be Obama’s speech on live Cuban television on Tuesday, when he’ll also meet dissidents and attend an exhibition baseball game between Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team.
(By Matt Spetalnick, Daniel Trotta And Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason aboard Air Force One, and Frank Jack Daniel, Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta in Havana; Editing by Mary Milliken, Alan Cro