HAVANA – U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday concluded an historic and intense three-day visit to Cuba, seen off at Jose Marti International Airport by his counterpart and host, Raul Castro.
Air Force One took off from the Cuban capital at 4:20 p.m., carrying the president, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and Mrs. Obama’s mother to the second and final destination of their Latin American trip, Argentina.
Obama thus wrapped up the first visit to Cuba by a sitting U.S. president since 1928.
The U.S. delegation arrived at the airport from Havana’s Latinoamericano stadium, where the two presidents attended an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and the MLB Tampa Bay Rays.
Obama was greeted with a thunderous ovation at the packed stadium before the game, which ended with a 4-1 victory by the visitors.
Tuesday’s game was the first between Cuba and a Major League squad after the diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba, a game laden with symbolism of the new era just starting between the two nations at odds for half a century but who have now elected to reconcile – at least partially – despite their differences.
The worldwide rejection of the terrorist attacks in Brussels also figured at the game, where a minute of silence was observed in memory of the 34 people killed in the attacks in the European city.
More than 200 people were wounded in the attacks, responsibility for which has been claimed by the Islamic State.
Obama and Castro solemnly showed their solidarity with the Belgian people, but later they got into the spirit of the festive atmosphere that prevailed at the stadium.
The enthusiastic stadium-goers sang the typical songs for a ballgame and some Cubans took advantage of the occasion to show their love for U.S. teams by wearing the squads’ caps and t-shirts.
Obama left the game in the fourth inning to be able to stick to his tight schedule.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama delivered a speech directed at the Cuban people, which was broadcast live on state-run television and radio, asking for reconciliation between Cubans and Americans and defending the values of democracy.
He met at the U.S. Embassy in Havana with key dissident figures and representatives of independent civil society, including bloggers, LGTB rights defenders and even a rapper who regularly criticizes the Cuban government, all of whom he praised for their “extraordinary courage.”