HAVANA – U.S. President Barack Obama arrived Sunday afternoon in Cuba on an historic two-day official visit to help seal the ongoing process of rapprochement between Washington and Havana.
Air Force One landed at the Cuban capital’s Jose Marti International Airport at 4:20 p.m. carrying the president, first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters Malia and Sasha, as well as his mother-in-law Marian Robinson.
The First Family was welcomed under rainy skies by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as they disembarked.
Obama posted a message in Spanish – saying “Que bola Cuba?” (What’s up, Cuba?) – on his official Twitter account @POTUS, adding as he landed “Looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
Accompanying Obama on his Cuba trip are Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the No. 2 Democratic senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, the only Republican lawmaker to make the flight.
The president emphasized the “historic” nature of his visit to the communist island, with which he announced the beginning of a bilateral rapprochement in December 2014, but he added that it is only a “first step” in the new relationship between the long-time adversaries.
Obama made his remarks at the first encounter on his agenda, a meeting with U.S. diplomats and staff and their families from Washington’s embassy at a Havana hotel. The embassy was reopened on July 20, 2015, when bilateral diplomatic ties were reestablished.
The Obamas and their daughters also visited Old Havana, taking a guided tour led by Eusebio Leal, the capital’s official historian and the driving force behind the extensive restoration work undertaken in recent decades in the zone, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Later they went to the Havana Cathedral, where they were welcomed by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and after their meeting with Cuba’s top Catholic official, they dined at the San Cristobal “paladar,” as private restaurants in Cuba are known.
At one point on the walking tour of Old Havana, Obama approached and greeted several Cubans who had gathered on streets near the Cathedral to try and see the U.S. president.
Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years.