World / Latin America

US, Cuba eye new era in relations

By Agencies in Havana (China Daily) Updated: 2016-03-21 08:02

US, Cuba eye new era in relations

Journalists at tents near Havana's Capitol as they prepare for US President Barack Obama's visit. AFP

Trip to serve as a powerful symbol of relationship Havana, Washington are now working to establish

Eyeing a new future with the United States, Cubans are preparing their famed capital for a long-awaited visit by US President Barack Obama, who will make history when Air Force One touches down in Havana.

Obama's visit to the island nation will serve as a powerful symbol of the relationship that the US and Cuba are now forging. For Obama, the trip offers one of the last, best chances to advance the diplomatic opening with President Raul Castro before Obama leaves office next year.

Ahead of Obama's arrival, US flags were raised in parts of Havana alongside Cuban flags, an improbable image for those who lived through a half-century in which the US and Cuba were bitter foes. Cubans were hard at work cleaning up Old Havana and giving buildings a fresh coat of paint, as the city buzzed in anticipation of Obama's visit.

Not in nearly 90 years has a sitting American president visited Cuba.

Joined by his wife and daughters, Obama will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Castro in his presidential offices. He'll join baseball-crazed Cubans for a historic game between their beloved national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

Ahead of his trip, Obama further lifted restrictions on Cuba, easing travel restrictions for Americans and restoring Cuba's access to the global financial system.

Since rapprochement the two sides have restored diplomatic ties, signed commercial deals on telecommunications and scheduled airline service, and expanded cooperation on law enforcement and environmental protection.

"Obama has been brave for agreeing to relations with Cuba," said school teacher Elena Gonzalez, 43.

Major differences remain, notably the 54-year-old economic embargo of Cuba. Obama has asked Congress to rescind it but has been blocked by the Republican leadership. Instead, Obama has used executive authority to loosen trade and travel restrictions.

Cuba also complains about the continued occupation of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which Obama has said is not up for discussion, and US support for dissidents and anti-government broadcasts beamed into Cuba.

"There are many years of mistrust and we are not going to change our system, our values," said Ileana Valdes, 55, a nurse.

"Times change and it's great that we have relations with the United States, even though they still impose the embargo," said Barbaro Echevarria, 28, a medical student. "But we can't blame all our problems on the US embargo."

While in Havana, Obama will attend a state dinner, honor a Cuban independence hero and meet with local entrepreneurs. His televised speech at the Grand Theater of Havana is expected to deal with both political and economic issues on the island, White House aides said.

However, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez rebuked Obama ahead of the trip for suggesting that he would use the visit to promote change. Invoking the 1959 revolution, Rodriguez said Cubans had already "empowered themselves decades ago".

AP - Reuters

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