When Air Force One touched down in Havana on Sunday, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. It was an historic moment of reconciliation for the two countries, which severed ties in 1961 after Fidel Castro seized power and became allies with the Soviet Union, heightening Cold War tensions. President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with the Communist country in 2014, following 18 months of secret negotiations involving intercession by Pope Francis.
The second day of the Obamas’ three-day trip took the picturesque First Family through Old Havana, to several monuments and baseball games, before culminating Monday with an historic press conference with Obama and Raul Castro, in which the U.S. president awkwardly avoided his controversial Cuban counterpart’s attempt to hold his hand.
That strange moment, captured just minutes after Castro tensely insisted that there were no political prisoners in Cuba, reflected some of Obama’s apparent discomfort as his administration moves to outline the contours of an agreement that would lift the U.S.’s decades-long trade embargo on the tiny Caribbean island. While Obama condemned the country’s treatment of political dissidents and its government’s human rights abuses, he continued to call for the embargo to be lifted. “What we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people,” he said during the press conference.
The diplomatic mission to Cuba continued on Tuesday, with the president visiting a group of political dissidents and the First Family watching an exhibition baseball game with Castro between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team. While Obama’s meeting with the Cuban dissidents made headlines for stretching nearly 30 minutes over the allotted time, as the president insisted on meeting people who had, just hours before, been monitored by Cuban police, it was Obama’s visit to the Estadio Latinoamerico stadium that proved more controversial. Images of the U.S. president and his cabinet taking in the game sparked criticism from his political opponents, who chastised Obama for remaining in Cuba in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack in Brussels that killed more than 30 people. “The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives,” he said, defending his choice in an interview with ESPN during the game. “It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world.”
Tina Nguyen, Vanity Fair
March 21, 2016
Tina Nguyen is a political reporter for VanityFair.com. Follow her on Twitter @Tina_Nguyen.
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