Rain, deserted streets and police in Havana greet the first US president to visit the Cuban capital in 88 years
Havana: Rain, deserted streets and hordes of police — this was Havana greeting Barack Obama when he became the first US president to visit the Cuban capital in 88 years.
US President Barack Obama talks to tourists and Cubans at his arrival to the Havana Cathedral. Pic/AFP
The view from Obama’s armoured Cadillac, nicknamed “The Beast,” would have been a long way from the postcard vision of sun-splashed Cuban mansions and sparkling blue seafront.
“Que bola Cuba?” Obama tweeted on landing yesterday, using Cuban slang to ask what’s going on. “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.”
Where the foul weather didn’t dissuade sightseers, the communist state’s security services finished the job. Swarms of police occupied street corners long ahead of Obama’s arrival there for the first stop of his three-day visit.
Many streets were barred and large buildings were put under lockdown.
The Malecon, the iconic seawall running along the front of Havana, would usually be crammed with families, lovers and musicians on a sunny weekend day. But the rainswept wall, which might have been the perfect viewing point to witness Obama’s convoy travelling to the Old Town, was forlorn and deserted.
Seeking to leave a historic foreign policy mark in his final year in office, Obama toured the newly reopened US embassy and Havana, and will hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro today and attend a baseball game before leaving.
Obama is not only the first sitting US president since Fidel Castro’s guerrillas overthrew the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, but the first since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit Cuba.
Unimaginable visit for Cubans
For Cubans, the visit has created huge excitement. “Never in my dreams or nightmares could we have imagined that we’d see such a thing,” wrote popular Cuban writer Leonardo Padura in a blog.