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article imageObama arrives in Havana for historic visit with former enemy

By Nathan Salant     Mar 20, 2016 in World
Havana - U.S. President Barack Obama and his family landed in Havana on Sunday for an historic visit that highlights newly warming relations between Cuba and the United States, two longtime Cold War adversaries.
Obama planned official meetings with Cuban officials, particularly with President Raul Castro, whose assumption of power from his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008 was a catalyst for change in a frosty relationship between two countries just 90 miles apart.
The two countries broke diplomatic relations after Cuba became Communist in 1961 but have been moving tentatively toward normalization since 2010.
Obama also plans meetings with Cuban dissidents, which the White House said was a condition of the president's visit, according to the Associated Press.
Obama planned to speak directly with the Cuban people in meetings with dissident groups, in a speech at the Grand Theater of Havana and in attending a specially scheduled baseball game between Cuba's national team and the major league Tampa Bay Rays.
The president landed Sunday afternoon in Havana and was quickly joined by a long list of U.S. lawmakers and business leaders who arrived on separate flights.
The two countries are expected to announce a raft of now-legal business deals, including those involving hotelier Starwood and vacation rental company Airbnb.
Obama's visit, the first for a U.S. president since 1928, sparked a flurry of activity in Havana, where streets were cleaned up, faded old buildings were painted and the American flag was raised next to Cuba's flag, the AP said.
But the Cuban government appeared to have declined to fill the streets with onlookers as it sometimes does for other visiting dignitaries, the AP said.
The city's popular Malecon seaside promenade was mostly deserted Sunday morning except for fishermen and joggers.
"I don't think that the Cuban people are going to be bewitched by North American culture," Cuba's deputy director of U.S. affairs, Gustavo Machin, told the AP.
"We don't fear ties with the United States," he said.
Whether better relations will change Cuban society for the better is still an open question.
While Castro launched a series of economic and social reforms two year after taking power, allowing many more residents to work in the private sector and to speak more freely, government authorities still exercise strict control over the country's political system and civil rights.
Hours before Obama arrived in Havana, police broke up a demonstration by the anti-government Ladies in White group as government supporters shouted insults and slogans at the protesters, who were taken into custody.
Such protests take place every Sunday, after which the demonstrators are detained briefly and released, the AP said.
More about Cuba, United States, Diplomatic, Relations, Cold war
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