Obama arrives in Cuba to begin visit in thawing of ties

Updated: 2016-03-21 07:10


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Obama arrives in Cuba to begin visit in thawing of ties

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, waves his hands, when arriving in Cuba, March 20, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

HAVANA - US President Barack Obama arrived on Sunday in Cuba, in a historic visit that could mark the beginning of a new era in US relations with its neighbor after more than 50 years of Cold War-era animosity.

The plane touched down at 4:19 pm local time at Jose Marti International Airport, where Obama was greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez as well as other Cuban and US officials.

Obama descended the plane accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, while holding an umbrella overhead due to a light rain coming down in Havana.

Havana Vieja, or Old Havana, the capital's historic district, will be the first place Obama visited on Sunday on a walking tour of key sites, such as Havana's Cathedral, Plaza Vieja and San Francisco Square, as well as the Museum of the City.

He will be accompanied by his wife and two daughters during the tour, which highlights the history, cultural significance, and beauty of the city, which is declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982.

On Monday, Obama will lay a wreath at a memorial to Cuba's national hero Jose Marti at Revolution Square before meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

The US head of state will be welcomed by Castro at an official ceremony, before the two leaders hold a closed-door meeting, after which they are expected to hold a joint press conference.

Also on Monday, Obama will meet with Cuban and American entrepreneurs to hear about their experiences and explore opportunities to develop long-term relationships, despite the economic and trade embargo Washington continues to impose on Cuba.

Prior to his trip, the Cuban government ruled out the possibility of offering political concessions to Washington as a precondition to restoring full bilateral ties with the United States.

Havana stressed Washington's economic and financial blockade of the island remains in force despite new measures announced last week by the White House to relax aspects of the embargo.

The visit which ends on Tuesday, the first by a US president since 1928, marks the most important moment since Obama and Castro agreed in December 2014 to restore diplomatic ties and end half a century of hostility following Cuba's revolution, which ousted a pro-American government in 1959.

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