Obama Landed At Cuba For Historic Visit After 88 Years

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U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle exit Air Force One at Havana's airport

Barack Obama has become the first US president in 88 years to visit Cuba after Air Force One touched down in Havana.

As the plane landed at a rainy Jose Marti International Airport, Mr Obama tweeted: “What’s up Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” More after the cut….

The president was greeted by foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez  not president Raul Castro. Instead he will hold talks with his Cuban counterpart on Monday.

The two announced they would re-open diplomatic relations in December 2014, ending an estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959.  Commercial flights have been resumed and respective embassies reopened, but the economic embargo of Cuba remains after Republicans in the US blocked its rescinding. Mr Obama travelled with daughters Malia and Sasha, the first lady and her mother.

After their arrival, the president called his visit an “historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people”. He will meet privately with dissidents, address Cubans live on state TV and attend an exhibition baseball game during the three-day trip. 

Mr Obama’s critics at home say the trip is premature and that human rights issues need to be addressed.

“These old enemies have new impetus but the wounds of decades of animosity will take a very long time to heal.”

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Obama swaps jokes with Cuban comedian

For its part, Havana insists that domestic politics are “off the table”.  Underscoring the ideological divide that persists, police detained 50 people from the Ladies in White dissident group during a regular protest just hours before the presidential plane touched down.

The visit is the first by a sitting president since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump criticised Mr Castro for not meeting the US president at the airport.

He tweeted: “Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, and Raul Castro wasn’t even there to greet him. He greeted Pope and others. No respect.”