HAVANA, March 20, 2016 – President Obama arrived in Cuba today for a history-making presidential visit and loosening decades of tense relations with the communist country. The White House is hoping the visit will nudge the Cuban government to grant more freedoms to its people and open new economic channels for American businesses.
Obama took to Twitter to announce his arrival, writing “¿Que bolá Cuba?” an informal Cuban greeting. “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
The president toured the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception and later met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Sunday that 974 reporters from 202 news outlets from 50 countries were in Havana to cover Obama’s trip.
President Obama’s three-day visit will focus on deepening long-neglected commercial ties between the United States and Cuba, but also on drawing a harder line on human rights abuses by the Castro government.
The president met with American diplomats at the newly reopened embassy who have been working to normalize relations with Cuba since Pope Francis aided in the thawing of U.S.–Cuban relations in 2014. Speaking to a group of reporters, President Obama praised the new embassy: “Having a U.S. embassy means we’re more effectively able to advance our values, our interests and understand more effectively” the Cuban people’s concerns. This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity.”
President Obama is scheduled to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro later today. Obama will also address the Cuban people in speech which will be televised across the island. He will also attend an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuban nationals.
The presidential trip to Havana is the culmination of a three-year effort to restore ties to the island, which sits 90 miles from Key West, Florida, but has long been off-limits for most American visitors.
The three-day trip, the first by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years, is softens an estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959. The trip makes Obama the first sitting American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928. It may help chip away at barriers to U.S.-Cuba trade and travel.
Obama has used executive authority to loosen trade and travel restrictions to advance his outreach to Cuba, one of his top foreign policy priorities along with the Iran nuclear deal.