Obama visits Cuba: the first time in 88 years for a US president

Barack Obama è sbarcato all’Avana 88 anni dopo l’ultimo viaggio di un presidente americano a Cuba. Ecco come tutto ha avuto inizio.

Il presidente americano Barack Obama stringe la mano al ministro degli Esteri cubano Bruno Rodriguez all'aeroporto dell'Avana, Cuba. È l'inizio dei tre giorni di visita. 20 marzo 2016 (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
US President Barack Obama and the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the airport of Havana, Cuba. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)


On Sunday 20 March at 16:18 local time, the President of the United States and his family landed in Havana, Cuba, starting their official visit. It’s an historic event that could be defined as the news of the century. It’s the first time that a US President visits Cuba in 88 years. Before Obama, Calvin Coolidge went to Havana on 16 January 1928 to participate in the works of the 6th Pan-American Conference. At that time Cuba was not under communism yet.



The Obama doctrine

Obama decided to visit the island as part of what has been defined – thanks to an article by Jeffrey Goldberg published in the Atlantic – as the Obama doctrine. The US President based part of his foreign policy on understanding why Unites States’ historical enemies remained so and trying to belie such stereotype. Cuba is thus the latest stop-over of a long journey that has also included the nuclear agreement with Iran, which – compared to this – now just seems a small goal achieved.


L'ex presidente americano Calvin Coolidge fu l'ultimo a visitare Cuba nel 1928 prima di Obama. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
US former president Calvin Coolidge was the last to visit Cuba in 1928, before Obama. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Obama’s journey represents the high point of a reconciliation process started on 17 December 2014 thanks to a speech that put an end to the silence started in 1962 with the embargo – which is still in force – established by John Fitzgerald Kennedy following the Cuban missile crisis. That speech was followed by the reopening of the embassies in both countries and the first agreement for the protection of the environment based on the safeguard of marine ecosystems.

The thaw, according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication and US secret envoy in Cuba, has begun at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s former president and one of Obama’s heroes. In December 2013, secret negotiations between the two countries had already been going on for 6 months “and hadn’t really gotten anywhere,” Rhodes said in an interview with Goldberg. “We were mainly talking about their desire to recover several Cuban prisoners in the United States and Florida and our desire to return Alan Gross to the United States, but we wanted a bigger package. We wanted to use the exchange of some prisoners as an entry point to changing the relationship.”

Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro

Mandela’s funerals were the occasion to start the long-desired change. Among many leaders, Cuban President Raul Castro attended the event. Obama decided to seize the opportunity to shake his hand, seen Raul’s – as Fidel’s brother – and Cubans’ importance in politically – and militarily – supporting Mandela’s Party, the African Nation Congress, during and after the apartheid, the racial segregation carried out by white people against black people.

That occasion, along with his characteristic good sense and the will to worthily remember one of the people who made him the man he is, brought to Obama’s decision of shaking Raul Castro’s hand: this is the moment that will be remembered as the event that brought a president of the United States to Cuba, after 88 years.

The programme of Obama’s visit to Cuba

The programme of Obama’s visit will include the meeting with Cuba’s President on Monday 21 March, followed by a joint press conference, and speech at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso followed by a meeting with some dissidents. On Tuesday 22 March, Obama will participate in the exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays. After Cuba, Obama’s visit to Latin America will continue in Argentina.

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