Saturday 10 December 2016

Obama and family make a splash in Havana on ‘historic’ Cuban visit

Julie Pace and Michael Weisenstein

Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30

US president Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and their daughters Malia and Sasha, exit Air Force One. Photo: Reuters
US president Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and their daughters Malia and Sasha, exit Air Force One. Photo: Reuters
US president Barack Obama, his wife Michelle negotiating puddles on a tour of Old Havana. Photos: Reuters

Stepping into history, US president Barack Obama opened an extraordinary visit to Cuba yesterday, eager to push decades of acrimony deeper into the past and forge irreversible ties with America’s former adversary. “It is wonderful to be here,” he said.

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Obama’s whirlwind trip is a crowning moment in his and Cuban president Raul Castro’s ambitious effort to restore normal relations between their countries. 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 the first by a sitting US president to visit Cuba since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge arrived in a battleship.

“This is a historic visit, and it’s an historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people,” Obama said.

After greeting embassy staff, Obama and his family were to tour Old Havana by foot, including the Havana Cathedral.

Obama’s visit was highly anticipated in Cuba, where workers furiously cleaned up the streets in Old Havana and gave buildings a fresh coat of paint. American flags were raised alongside the Cuban colors in parts of the capital, an improbable image for those who have lived through a half-century of bitterness between the two countries.

The president’s schedule in Cuba is jam-packed, including official meetings with Raul Castro today. Tomorrow he joins Castro and a crowd of baseball-crazed Cubans for a game between the beloved national team and Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Irish Independent

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