President Barack Obama is in Cuba for a historic three-day visit to the island and talks with its communist leader. Mr Obama will meet President Raul Castro, but not retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, and the pair will discuss trade and political reform.
He is the first sitting US president to visit since the 1959 revolution, which heralded decades of hostility between the two countries. “It’s a historic opportunity to engage directly with the Cuban people and to forge new agreements and commercial deals,” he told employees of the United States Embassy, his first stop in the country, “and build new ties between our two peoples, and for me to lay out my vision for a future that’s brighter than our past.”
All around the city President Obama’s name could be heard — before he arrived, when bartenders on a hotel rooftop thought they saw his entourage; when he landed, as groups of Cubans stood under verandas by the sea; and in homes across the city, where families watched him wave and smile on Cuban television.
Shouts of “U.S.A.!” and “Obama!” echoed over the stone plazas as President Obama and his family made their way around rain-slicked courtyards in Old Havana on Sunday evening, savoring the adulation of Cubans welcoming him warmly despite a driving rain as he began a history-making visit.
Already, the US-Cuba relationship is vastly changed. Embassies have reopened, Cuba was taken off the State Department's list for state sponsors of terrorism, and the US lifted bans on Cuba's access to the international banking system. Obama authorized direct flights between the US and Cuba, and loosened restrictions on US travel to the island. He also reinitiated direct mail services between the countries last week.
Although these have marked important political shifts, the impact on day-to-day lives here has been smaller than initially hoped for,
In the agenda are the 54-year-old US trade embargo is one of the main sticking points in US-Cuban relations.It can only be lifted by the US Congress, which is controlled by Republicans who have expressed their opposition to its removal.
The other point of the agenda is human rights. The White House has insisted the president will meet political dissidents, whether the Cuban authorities like it or not.
Mr Obama and Raul Castro will sit together at a state dinner, there will be a joint news conference and they will discuss trade. Since the two presidents announced a thaw in relation in December 2014, they have reached commercial deals on telecoms and a scheduled airline service, increased co-operation on law enforcement and environmental protection.
Ricardo Avella G