President Barack Obama made history last month as the second sitting president in United States history to visit Cuba.
In 1928, Calvin Coolidge made a historic visit to Cuba, his first and only foreign trip during his term in office. Coolidge made the visit to speak at the sixth annual Pan-American Conference in hopes of normalizing relations with Cuba and creating a sense of peace throughout the entire Western Hemisphere. However, since Coolidge’s journey nearly 90 years ago, relations between Cuba and the United States have grown more complex.
In Obama’s last year in office, just as Coolidge did in 1928, he decided to make a controversial trip to the country that has been the source of a great deal of tension for many years. Although two vastly different times in the world, both presidents made the trip to Cuba with one major goal in mind: change.
Obama had hoped this trip to Cuba would allow him to extend a hand and pave a peaceful path forward for the United States and to improve its relations with Cuba moving forward.
Obama’s two-day trip to Cuba began on Monday, March 21 with a welcoming ceremony, but soon after, the President began speaking with the people of Cuba.
On the first day of his visit to Cuba, he sat down with one of Cuba’s leaders, Raúl Castro, in a closed-door meeting. After the meeting concluded, a news conference was held with millions watching in anticipation as the leaders spoke publicly. They touched on topics ranging from human rights to Guantanamo Bay. Although the leaders differed on many topics, they both agreed that relations between the two countries were improving and they hoped it would continue in that direction for years to come.
During the conference, Castro stated that “the road ahead will not be easy,” but “fortunately we don’t have to swim with sharks to achieve the goals that you and I have set forth.” Castro’s remarks show a sense of positivity in normalizing relations with the United States.
During this meeting, Castro noted that relations between the United States and Cuba would not be normalized until the United States’ embargo against Cuba was removed and until the United States relinquished the military base at Guantanamo Bay. After stating this, however, Castro made it clear that he understands the resistance Obama faces within his own government and noted that he “recognizes the position President Obama is in.” Both leaders agreed that the economic embargo should be lifted and Obama is quoted during this meeting saying, “The embargo’s going to end.” After this statement was made, Obama was unable to tell Castro when exactly the embargo would be lifted.
Aside from talks with Castro, Obama toured the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception where he greeted Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who is known to be in favor of improving relations between Cuba and the United States. Obama also met with dissidents in Cuba who are anti-Castro, in hopes of relating to them on a different level. On Tuesday, March 22, before heading to Argentina, Obama attended a baseball game where he watched the Tampa Bay Rays play against a Cuban national baseball team. This event was especially controversial because Obama was seen at this baseball game soon after bombings in Belgium occurred, where several Americans were killed.
With his controversial visit to Cuba, Obama hopes relations between the two countries will continue improving, even with a change of leaders in the United States. He hopes that this visit not only affects Americans positively, but also the people living in Cuba and paves a brighter, more positive path for the future.
Kevin Harper is a fourth-year student majoring in professional studies. They can be reached at KH818254@wcupa.edu