Obama arrives in Cuba, begins historic trip

By UPI Staff   |   Updated March 20, 2016 at 5:28 PM
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HAVANA, March 20 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama landed at Cuba's Jose Marti International Airport on Sunday afternoon, beginning a historic trip to Cuba as part of his ongoing effort to normalize relations with the Communist-run island nation.

The president is accompanied on the trip by first lady Michelle Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia. On the ground in Havana, the president will begin working to advance commercial and people-to-people ties that he believes can improve the well-being of the Cuban people.

Obama's arrival has been highly anticipated by the Cuban people, who view Obama favorably. But the president's visit has also heightened tensions within the island nation -- tensions that were on display Sunday prior to the arrival of Air Force One.

Several dozen protesters associated with of the prominent dissident group known as Ladies in White were arrested on Sunday. The demonstrators protest almost every Sunday outside a church in Havana's Miramar district.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told The New York Times the arrests took place "in the moment that Obama was flying in the air to Cuba."

The president and first lady are scheduled to meet with embassy personnel and families, then take a walking tour of Old Havana that will include a stop at the Cathedral de San Cristobal de la Habana on Sunday evening, the International Business Times reported.

Obama will also meet with Cardinal Ortega of the Roman Catholic Church. The White House describes the church as playing an "integral role" in helping to reopen relations between the two countries.

The family will spend the night in Havana.

The president's full day on Monday starts with a wreath-laying at the Josi Marti Memorial. Marti was a poet and journalist who fought for Cuban independence.

Cuban leader Raul Castro will officially welcome Obama at the Palace of the Revolution, and the two will hold a meeting in the afternoon. Obama will take part in an entrepreneurship summit followed by a state dinner in the evening.

Obama will not meet formally with longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

On Tuesday, Obama will address the Cuban people in Havana from the El Gran Teatro, followed by a visit with civil society leaders and dissidents. The White House has not released specifics on which leaders and activists are meeting with the president.

For hundreds of thousands of black Cubans, Obama isn't just the first sitting U.S. president to visit their country in nearly nine decades. A black man's rise to the world's most powerful job is a source of pride and inspiration for many on the island, ABC News reported.

This visit has raised Cubans' hopes that a new era in relations with the United States will improve lives and end the U.S. trade embargo once and for all.

Before departing Cuba on Tuesday, Obama will take in a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. From Cuba, he will fly to Argentina.

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