Obama Arrives In Cuba; Hopes Visit Will Usher In Change
HAVANA (CNN) – President Barack Obama touched down in Cuba on Sunday, definitively ending a half-century of estrangement in a dramatic personal demonstration of his core foreign policy principle of engaging America’s enemies.
It’s a shift that the change-minded president hopes will nudge the Communist government here to grant more freedoms to its people and open new economic channels for American businesses. The President and his allies also hope a successful détente will offer something bigger: a lasting example of diplomacy’s power in dealing with longtime foes.
The final verdict on Obama’s Cuba policy has yet to be rendered. The regime in Havana has shown little movement toward improving human rights or opening its state-run economy, and Obama admitted this week that Congress isn’t likely to lift a longstanding trade embargo before he leaves office in January 2017.
But the sight of Air Force One landing at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport in the early evening on Sunday nonetheless represents a diplomatic metamorphosis that few could have imagined even five years ago.
“My view is that this is the beginning, not the end, of what is going to be a journey that takes some time,” Obama told CNN in an interview ahead of the trip.
“This is a matter of us engaging directly with the Cuban people and being able to have candid, tough conversations directly with the Cuban government,” Obama said. “We will have more influence and have greater capacity to advocate on behalf of the values that we care about when we’re actually talking to them.”
The presidential trip to Havana is the culmination of a three-year effort to restore ties to the island, which sits 90 miles from Key West, Florida, but has long been off-limits for most American visitors. For decades, the island was regarded as a Cold War adversary, a forbidden place run by bearded strongmen that residents fled on makeshift rafts.