President Obama arrived in Cuba early Sunday evening, signaling a historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations as the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation in nearly nine decades.
The president took to Twitter to announce his arrival:
After touching down in Havana, the president’s two-day trip to Cuba will include a packed schedule, with plans to have official meetings with President Raul Castro and to appear at a White House summit with business entrepreneurs.
But Mr. Obama will also have time to celebrate the diversity of culture on the island just 90 miles off American shores. His more leisurely planned activities include a tour of Old Havana and the Havana Cathedral and an appearance at a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team.
The president departed from the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Sunday afternoon, accompanied by his wife and two daughters. In a bipartisan show of support, a bevy of about 40 U.S. House and Senate members also joined him. Several business leaders are also expected to make the trip to Havana in the coming days to take part in the White House’s entrepreneurship conference.
The visit comes more than a year after the White House moved to normalize relations with America’s previous Cold War-era foe.
Last fall, the U.S. embassy officially opened in Cuba, resuming diplomatic relations with the island nation. Since then, the president’s administration has already instituted several changes in its policies towards Cuba.
Last month, the U.S. and Cuba inked a deal to reboot commercial air traffic between the two countries for the first time in about 50 years. And earlier this month, the president sent a letter to an elderly Cuban woman that was carried aboard the first direct mail flight to Cuba in just as long.
Other policy shifts include Obama’s announcement last month that the administration would move to shut down America’s detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Despite the friendly overtures between the two nations, some tensions remain.
The U.S. continues to remain skeptical of the Cuban government’s restrictions on media and publicly critical speech, along with its human rights policies.
During his time on the island, the president is also expected to meet with Cuban dissidents, a gathering that the White House required on the schedule before the trip.
The last time a sitting president made a trip to Cuba was in 1928, when Calvin Coolidge arrived on the island’s shores aboard a battleship.