Reuters reports that President Obama touched down in Havana Sunday afternoon, making him the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived via a battleship back in 1928. It’s the beginning of a trip that marks the culmination of 15 months of diplomatic thaw-out following a historic agreement between Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro to restore relations between the two countries after more than 50 years of Cold War bitterness and sporadic antagonism.
Obama’s trip will include official meetings with Raúl Castro, a visit to the newly reopened U.S. embassy, and a big speech to the Cuban people at the Grand Theater of Havana. The entire first family is also along for the trip, however, and so more touristic outings are planned as well, including an exhibition baseball game on Tuesday between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.
The White House says they also made sure, as a prerequisite for the trip, that Obama will be able to visit with some Cuban dissidents while he’s in the country, though the Associated Press reports that it’s unlikely he will obtain any pledges from the Cuban government addressing human rights concerns. Instead, the aim of the trip is to symbolize, solidify, and expand the gains made in improving relations, particularly regarding trade and travel restrictions, as well as Cuban political reform. A delegation from Congress and dozens of American executives anxious to do more business in Cuba are along for the ride as well. (U.S. hotel company Starwood signed a deal on Saturday to renovate and run three hotels in the country.) The other aim of the trip, and overall diplomatic efforts for the rest of the year, is to try and make the progress irreversible in case the next U.S. president rejects the thaw.
According to the New York Times, workers in Havana have been preparing for Obama’s arrival for weeks, fixing roads, cleaning the city, and repainting buildings. Apparently some Cubans have even begun to call the president “St. Obama.”