Havana: US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met on Monday in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbours.
Obama, seeing Castro only for the third time in a formal setting, was the first US president in Cuba since 1928. “Que bola Cuba?” Obama tweeted on landing on Sunday, using Cuban slang to ask what's going on.
“Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
Moments later, a smiling Obama emerged from Air Force One with his wife First Lady Michelle and their two daughters Sasha and Malia, clutching umbrellas to shield themselves from a warm afternoon rain shower.
He was greeted on the tarmac by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, before loading into his bulky limousine, nicknamed “the beast.”
Obama is not only the first sitting US president since Fidel Castro's guerrillas overthrew the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, but the first since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit Cuba. “Change is going to happen here and I think that Raul Castro understands that,” he told ABC in the Cuban capital, acknowledging it was not going to occur “overnight.”
Obama paid homage to Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, a figure who draws rare bipartisan reverence. Honoring a man whose writing is still read by young Cubans, Obama touched a wreath and signed a memorial book at the foot of a statue in the heart of Havana's government district.
“It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom and self-determination lives on in the Cuban people today,” Obama wrote.
The moment began with a band from the General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba playing the Star-Spangled Banner.