Havana, March 21 (IANS) Barack Obama, the first US president visiting Cuba in nearly 90 years, was set to meet Cuban President Raul Castro on Monday on a historic trip that seeks to seal a new chapter in US-Cuban ties.
Obama touched down in Havana on Sunday evening, ending a half century of estrangement in a personal demonstration of his core foreign policy principle of engaging with America’s enemies, CNN reported.
The three-day visit marks the culmination of a thaw in relations between Washington and the Communist island that began in December 2014 – 55 years after Fidel Castrol seized power.
Obama arrived with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia. He is due to meet Raul Castro later on Monday.
Obama and Castro will hold official talks at the Palace of the Revolution, the third meeting between the two presidents since announcing the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, and the first official visit by a US president to Cuba since 1959, EFE news reported.
They will hold a bilateral meeting for around one hour which afterwards will include official delegations from the Cuban and US governments. A joint press statement will follow.
Before the talks, President Obama will lay a wreath by the statue of national hero Jose Marti at the Plaza of Revolution where there is also a portrait of Che Guevara — the global revolutionary icon.
Later in the afternoon, the president will attend a business forum between the US business leaders, with representatives of Cuban state-owned enterprises, the emerging private sector of the island, cooperatives and the so-called “self-employed” or entrepreneurs.
Obama has repeatedly expressed his intention to help the development of this emerging sector that is considered a stepping stone and is helping to modernize Cuba’s economy.
In the evening, Obama will attend a state dinner, hosted by President Raul Castro.
“It’s been nearly 90 years since a US president stepped foot in Cuba, it is wonderful to be here. Back in 1928, President (Calvin) Coolidge came on a battleship. It took him three days to get here, it only took me three hours. For the first time ever Air Force One has landed in Cuba,” he said during a speech at the US embassy in Havana shortly after his arrival.
“This is a historic visit and it’s a historic opportunity to engage directly with the Cuban people and to forge new agreements, commercial deals, to build new ties between our two peoples.”
The Obamas later began a walkabout in historic Old Havana.
The first mail flight between the two countries since 1968 arrived in Havana from Miami on Wednesday, carrying on it a letter from Obama to a Havana coffee shop owner, a response to a series of missives he’d received ahead of his trip, CNN reported.