UPDATE: As The Obamas round up their first 24-hours in Cuba, they covered a lot of ground today.
In addition to sight-seeing, President Barack Obama did what he set out to do: Meet with Cuban President Raul Castro to begin to mend the countries’ fragile relationship. The two met at the Palacio de la Revolucion where the red carpet was rolled out for our nation’s leader. He was also greeted by Cuba’s military:
Castro referred to Obama’s visit as “a new day” of openness between the United States and Cuba, The New York Times wrote. Obama interjected, “At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future.”
POTUS also stressed his optimism that the U.S Congress could soon drop the 50-plus-year trade embargo between the two nations, which Castro said was “the most important obstacle to our economic development and the well-being of the Cuban people.”
The Cuban President added, “We agree that a long and complex path still lies ahead. What is most important is that we have started taking the first steps to build a new type of relationship, one that has never existed between Cuba and the United States.”
While the meeting between the two leaders was semi-friendly and at times endearing, it wasn’t void of awkwardness, especially with this moment where Castro posted up President Obama’s limp wrist, NPR noted.
In addition, with Cuba housing numerous American political prisoners, included Black Panther Assata Shakur, a few journalists asked if this trip would translate into some of them being handed over to the U.S. government. Castro asked, “Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention the list. What political prisoners?”
Also during the day, POTUS stood in front of a mural of Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara as the Cuban military played the U.S. national anthem played, a move that angered some American Conservatives.
POTUS can’t win to lose with some folks. It’s OK, though. Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders applauded Obama’s efforts:
Other highlights from the First Family’s trip include:
As President Obama finishes up his 2-day trip, he plans to visit with Fidel Castro, former Cuban president and Raul’s older brother, the Times pointed out.
On Sunday, Air Force One touched down in Havana, Cuba with passengers President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters stepping off to embark on a 2-day visit to the Caribbean island. With an umbrella covering them in the light rain, the First Family was greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, NPR reported.
This trip isn’t some beachside family vacation: It’s a history-making event given that it’s the first time since 1928 that a sitting U.S. President has visited the island, ABC reported. POTUS joked, “Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship, it took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours.”
This trip is also a crucial opportunity for the U.S. and Cuba to work on mending their fractured relationship. Just 15 months ago, POTUS announced that the two countries would restore diplomatic ties after being at odds for some 50 years thanks to heavily sanctioned embargoes handed down during John F. Kennedy’s presidency.
According to the Huffington Post, President Obama’s jam-packed itinerary includes numerous walking tours, sight-seeing events, catching a minor-league baseball game, visiting the U.S. Embassy and meeting with President Raul Castro, government officials and human rights activists. He also plans on getting better acquainted with the people of Cuba and to express this desire, he Tweeted the country asking them “What’s good, Cuba?”
The President will not be alone during meetings with Cuban officials. He is rolling deep with a robust Washington D.C. squad that consists of “39 members of Congress including five Republicans,” ABC noted.
While a trade embargo is still in place, that only Congress can lift, “over the past 15 months, the Administration has been chipping away at it, easing restrictions on both travel and commerce,” NPR noted. American travel to the island has increased a whopping 80 percent in the past year.
Yet, not everyone is feeling the love, reports show that there have been some protests against this visit, but the Washington Post pointed out that for many Afro-Cubans, POTUS’ trip is amplifying their Black pride.
“People here look at blacks like they’re the worst, and since Obama’s black it’s like we have a bit more status, here and over there,” said Rosa Lopez, who sells snacks in a public market. “Having a black president of the United States gives us just a little more pride.”
Many also hope this trip will inspire their own government to do more to help ease racial inequality on the island. “He’s black and in some moment of his life he must have realized that as an African-American he had to elevate his performance level because as a black person you have to work twice as hard to get the same result as a white,” Mauri said. “I identity a lot with him because of that,” 26-year old Yolanda Mauri told the Post.