By Jahnvi Upreti
Monday, March 21, marked the first day of President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba. The president and First Lady Michelle Obama toured the capital city of Havana and spoke with members of Cuban society. Following the two-day trip, the president and first lady traveled to Argentina with their daughters, Sasha and Malia.
On his first day, Obama visited Havana Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the world.ISIS claims responsiblity for bombings in Belgium Following the visit, he honored the statue of Cuban independence champion Jose Martí at Plaza de la Revolución, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.
Located 90 miles south of Florida, the last standing president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928, more than 85 years ago, ABC News Go reported. President Coolidge traveled to Cuba on a U.S. battleship, so “this will be a very different kind of visit,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said. Jimmy Carter also traveled to Cuba, though not during his presidency, in 2002 and 2011, at the invitation of the Cuban government. High level members of the U.S. government have also traveled to Cuba, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Transportation Chief Anthony Foxx.
One of the most anticipated moments of the trip was the meeting between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Since Obama announced he was visiting the country, there have been diplomatic discussions between the two presidents taking place. This visit follows Obama’s and Castro’s first meeting at a summit conference in Panama last spring.
CNN reported that at a news conference, the Cuban ministry implored the U.S. to return its naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba and lift the embargo, which restricts most trade and inhibits travel to the island for tourism. The United States has not made any promises, though, but promises that it will continue negotiations.
Many view this visit as a breakthrough and are lauding President Obama for taking the initiative. Others are not as pleased. According to CNN, former Republican presidential nominee Sen. Marco Rubio stated: “The Cuban government is an anti-American communist dictatorship. They’re a repressive regime.” He went on to state that he would not visit Cuba until it was a “free country.”
CNN states that fellow nominee Ted Cruz, along with a number of lawmakers, expressed the same displeasure, saying they believe the president should have waited for Cuba to improve its human rights protocols prior to visiting.
So far, though, the U.S. extending its hand to Cuba has proven to be beneficial in mending the broken relationship between the two countries. The United States embassy in Cuba reopened and the Cuban embassy now sports an American flag. Cuba is also seeing a heightened increase in the number of U.S. tourists, with numbers skyrocketing to 161,500 in 2015, NPR reported. Tourists no longer have to travel to Cuba via third party countries.
Last week, U.S. air carriers took part in a bidding war with the hopes of achieving control of trade routes in Cuba, following an accordance signed by both countries, CNN reported.
Though the visit is boding well, President Obama still states he’s maintaining caution. While the relationship between Cuba and the United States is certainly improving following the decades of turmoil after the Cold War, improvements will take time to occur. President Obama appears to remain optimistic, mentioning that the U.S. and Cuba have always, and continue to today, have a unique relationship: “The United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood,” NPR reported.