A tale of two trips: President Obama visits Cuba

  • Seen from inside a classic American pick-up truck, people walk outside the entrance to a new Google technology center in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. Google is opening a cutting-edge online technology center at the studio of one of Cuba’s most famous artists, offering free Internet at speeds nearly 70 times faster than those now available to the Cuban public. President Obama says Google’s efforts in Cuba are part of a wider plan to improve access to the Internet across the island.
  • An honor guard peers out from behind U.S. and Cuban flags at the bottom of the steps of the Revolution Palace during a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. 
  • U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he attends a wreath-laying ceremony the Jose Martí monument in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. 
  • People react as they wait for an eventual visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to downtown Havana, March 21, 2016. 
  • U.S. first lady Michelle Obama smiles as she attends a “Let Girls Learn” conversation with female Cuban students at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016. 
  • Cubans line the road to see the motorcade of U.S. President Barack Obama as he is driven to the first meeting with Cuban’s President Raul Castro on the second day of Obama’s visit to Cuba, in Havana March 21, 2016. 
  • Cubans wave and take pictures as President Obama’s car passes by on its way to the Revolution square in Havana on March 21, 2016. 
  • U.S. President Barack Obama, center, walks in the rain with first lady Michelle Obama, who is holding the arm of her mother Marian Robinson, during a walking tour of Old Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • Members of the White House press corps walk past a woman watching television on her sofa as President Obama takes a walking tour of in the plaza of the 18th century Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana, March 20, 2016. 
  • President Obama talks to tourists and Cubans at his arrival to the Havana Cathedral, on March 20, 2016. 
  • Tourists and local residents take pictures as U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) tours Old Havana with his family at the start of a three-day visit to Cuba, in Havana, March 20, 2016. 
  • The vehicle carrying President Barack Obama drives along the Malecon sea wall on its way to Old Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • A man watches from his doorway in Vieja Havana as President Obama takes part in a walking tour nearby, in Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • Men play dominoes, the national game, on a street in Havana, March 20, 2016, Cuba. 
  • A Cuban security force member stands guard in front of President Obama’s limousine, known as the Beast, as Obama and his family tour Old Havana on March 20, 2016. 
  • People climb a window grate as it rains, in hopes of catching a glimpse of President Barack Obama during his visit to Cathedral Square in Old Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • President Barack Obama and his daughter Malia smile as the visit a monument of Cuban independence hero Carlos Manuel de Cespedes during their visit to Old Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • Under a balcony decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags, Cuban police arrive to the area where President Barack Obama will visit upon arrival in Old Havana, Cuba, March 20, 2016. 
  • U.S. President Obama waves upon his arrival at Jose Martí International Airport in Havana, March 20, 2016. Barack Obama on Sunday became the first U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba. 
  • Air Force One carrying U.S. President Barack Obama and his family flies over a neighborhood of Havana as it approaches the runway to land at Havana’s international airport, March 20, 2016. 
  • A government supporter kisses the Cuban flag as fellow supporters shout against a regular march by the ‘Ladies in White’ dissident group, hours before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Havana, March 20, 2016. 
  • A member of Las Damas de Blanco, the ‘Ladies in White’ dissident group, is led away by police officers after they broke up a regular march of the group, hours before President Obama arrives in Havana, March 20, 2016. 
  • Government supporters hold signs that read “We all march against media terrorism” and “We all march for Fidel and Raul,” hours before President Obama arrives for a historic visit in Havana, March 20, 2016. 
  • A member of Las Damas de Blanco, the ‘Ladies in White’ dissident group, is carried by police after they broke up a regular march, detaining about 50, hours before President Obama arrived in Havana, March 20, 2016. 
  • Cubans take part in a weekly rumba dance gathering in Havana, March 19, 2016. For hundreds of thousands of black Cubans, Obama is a black man whose rise to the world’s most powerful job is a source of pride and inspiration. 
  • People play a soccer match on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba March 21, 2016. 
  • Dancer Yanet Rivas, 24, peers from the door of a house in Havana, March 18, 2016. 
  • A boy jumps over a puddle of water on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba March 21, 2016.
  • Marcia Espinosa, 55, watches pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama being shown during a local TV news program in her home in Havana, March 19, 2016. 



It had been nearly nine decades since U.S. President Calvin Coolidge—the last American leader to visit Cuba—attended the 1928 Pan American Conference in Havana when President Obama and his family touched down at the Jose Martí International Airport on Sunday.

The 48-hour visit has been hailed by some as an historic moment in the effort to bury Cold War-era hostilities and move toward a restoration of friendly relations between the two countries. Others, however—particularly members of the Cuban-American diaspora—question the president’s ability to reconcile half a century’s worth of human rights abuses by the Cuban government with the Obama administration’s economic goals.

The difficulty of that task surged to the fore of news coverage around Obama’s arrival as the president, intent on pushing the issue of free speech with Cuban President Raúl Castro, landed amid the violent suppression of a Damas de Blanco demonstration.

The Damas de Blanco—or Ladies in White—is a dissident group composed of the mothers, sisters and partners of jailed dissidents, who demonstrate for the release of their loved ones every Sunday after church services. By the end of Sunday’s demonstration, which was matched on the streets by counter-protests, approximately 50 demonstrators had been detained.

President Obama will be meeting with the group’s leader, Berta Soler, on Tuesday, in an effort to fulfill a promise to “listen to the people,” but human rights groups are unsure of what the effects of the meeting will be. 

On Sunday, Obama and his family toured the Old Havana neighborhood in the rain and had dinner at San Cristobal, a Central Havana “paladar”one of just a few privately owned restaurants.

In the U.S., Obama faces growing demand to confront Castro about the 70 American fugitives who are currently living in Cuba, and continued challenges with Congress on the issue of lifting the American embargo against the island. Also on Obama’s agenda is an invitation-only baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team, scheduled for Tuesday.

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