LIVE Obama in Cuba: US president, Castro lay bare tensions on embargo

"Que bola Cuba?" Obama tweeted on landing yesterday, using Cuban slang to ask what's up.

By: Agencies | Updated: March 22, 2016 2:32 pm
Barack Obama, Obama cuba visit, Obama in Cuba, US President Cuba, Obama cuba, obama in cuba, obama cuba, cuba obama, obama cuba live, live obama cuba, obama news, world news President Barack Obama, right, and first lady Michelle arrive for a state dinner with Cuba’s President Raul Castro, left, at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba, Monday, March 21, 2016. Obama’s visit to Cuba is a crowning moment in his and Castro’s bid to normalize ties between two countries that sit just 90 miles apart. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Barack Obama became the first US president in 88 years to visit Cuba, touching down in Havana for a landmark trip aimed at ending decades of Cold War animosity.

“Que bola Cuba?” Obama tweeted on landing yesterday, using Cuban slang to ask what’s up.

“Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” Obama tweeted.

In pics: Obama in Old Havana

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#Although polls show 72 percent of Americans want to abandon the embargo, the Republican party line has firmly supported the restrictions. Critics of Obama’s policy say Cuba’s government is still too repressive for the United States to ease restrictions.

READ: Cubans marvel at rare questioning of Castro 

#The U.S. embargo on Cuba, first imposed in 1960, can be lifted only via a majority vote in Congress, which is now controlled by Republicans.

# At least 15 of the 54 Republicans in the Senate, mostly members from states like Kansas where agriculture is a significant industry, have publicly backed increased Cuban trade or fewer restrictions on travel.

# Besides Flake, Republicans making the trip include House of Representatives members Mark Sanford, Tom Emmer and Reid Ribble, as well as Senator Dean Heller, congressional sources and lawmakers said.

# Cubans were glued to their televisions on Monday, many watching in a state of shock as President Raul Castro faced tough questions from American journalists who challenged him to defend Cuba’s record on human rights and political prisoners.

# “This is the right policy. He’s done the right thing,” said Republican Senator Jeff Flake, an outspoken proponent of closer ties with Cuba who is going to Havana.

# Republican congressional leaders have made opposition to President Barack Obama’s easing of the Cuban trade embargo a hallmark of their foreign policy. But an increasing number of party members, drawn by the economic benefits of scrapping the cold war-era embargo, are lining up to back the White House.

# At least five Republicans, all known for favoring normal trade relations with Cuba, will make the trip, congressional sources and lawmakers told Reuters.

# Republican lawmakers to join Obama’s Cuba visit.

# “America believes in democracy. We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values but are universal values,” he said.

# “In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant,” Obama said in a joint news conference with Castro that began with jokes but was tense at times.

# Obama praised Castro for openly discussing their differences but he said a “full flowering” of the relationship would happen only with progress on the issue of rights.

# Senior Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes said that neither the administration nor the Cuba authorities had asked for a meeting between Obama and the 89-year-old.

# The White House has all ruled out all but ruled out a meeting between Barack Obama and veteran Cuban leader Fidel Castro during the US president’s trip to Cuba.

# Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro met in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution for groundbreaking talks on ending the standoff between the two neighbours.

#”It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom, and self-determination lives on in the Cuban people today,” Obama wrote in dark ink in the book after he laid a wreath and toured a memorial dedicated to the memory of Jose Marti.

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