Obama Set To Meet Castro On Historic Cuban Visit

The Obama family on arrival in Havana, Cuba on Sunday
The Obama family on arrival in Havana, Cuba on Sunday

US President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba on Sunday for a historic visit to the island and talks with its communist leader.

He is the first sitting US president to visit since the 1959 revolution, which heralded decades of hostility.

The Obama family braved the rain in Old Havana
The Obama family braved the rain in Old Havana

Speaking at the reopened US embassy in Havana, he called the visit “historic”. He also spent time in the old city.

Mr Obama will meet President Raul Castro, but not retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, and the pair will discuss trade and political reform.

The US president emerged smiling from Air Force One with First Lady Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia.

Holding umbrellas, the party walked in light drizzle along a red carpet to be greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Two hours after landing, Mr Obama greeted staff from the US embassy with the words: “It is wonderful to be here”.

“Back in 1928, President [Calvin] Coolidge came on a battleship. It took him three days to get here, it only took me three hours. For the first time ever, Air Force One has landed in Cuba and this is our very first stop.”

He added the trip was a chance to for him to lay out a “vision for a future that is brighter than our past”.

The Obamas later began a walkabout in historic Old Havana.

The tour was meant to see them interacting with ordinary Cubans on the streets, but this part of the itinerary was marred by a tropical storm.

President Obama talks to tourists and Cubans outside the Havana Cathedral
President Obama talks to tourists and Cubans outside the Havana Cathedral

They huddled under umbrellas before visiting the national cathedral.

President Obama’s visit is the highpoint of a recent easing of ties, which included the opening of embassies last year.

But only hours before his arrival, protesters calling for the release of political prisoners were arrested in the capital, Havana.

Police took away dozens of demonstrators from the Ladies in White group, formed of political prisoners’ wives, from outside a church where they attempt to hold weekly protests.

Cuba's president Raul Castro (L) during his historic meeting with  Obama in Panama recently
Cuba’s president Raul Castro (L) during his historic meeting with Obama in Panama recently

Obama and Castro will have their fourth meeting, likely their most substantial, at the Palace of the Revolution, where Castro and his predecessor, older brother Fidel Castro, have led Cuba’s resistance to U.S. pressure going back decades.

Castro has said Cuba will not waver from its 57-year-old revolution and government officials say the United States needs to end its economic embargo and return the Guantanamo Bay naval base to Cuba before the two nations can enjoy normal relations.

Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban revolution
Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban revolution

Obama has urged Congress to rescind the 54-year-old embargo but has been rejected by the Republican leadership. He now has both Democratic and Republican elected officials with him on his Cuba trip and hopes Congress may act after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

One Cuban yelled “Down with the embargo!” during Obama’s tour of Old Havana, and the president responded by raising his right hand.

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