We’re going to close our live coverage with a summary of Barack Obama’s second and last day in Havana, on the first presidential visit to Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution took over the island in 1959.

  • “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the cold war in the Americas,” Obama told Cuban leaders and citizens in a nationally televised address. “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” he said. “It is time for us to look forward together. Un futuro de esperanza.”
  • The president told Raúl Castro “you need not fear” freedom of speech and the voices of the Cuban people, and declared his support for basic rights to protest, religion and free and democratic elections. But he promised that despite these differences, “we will not impose our political or economic system on you.”
  • He conceded to Castro that the US still struggles with healthcare, education and massive inequality, but still urged Cubans toward change and free market, democratic reforms. “There’s still enormous problems in our society. But democracy is the way we solve them.
  • Prominent dissidents met with the US president. “It requires, often times, great courage to be active in civic life here in Cuba,” he said. “We can’t forget the fact that families have experienced pain.”
  • Terrorists “cannot defeat America,” the president said of the group that killed 34 people in Belgium earlier on Tuesday. Speaking from a baseball game between an American team and the Cuban national team, he said the courage not to let life be disrupted is “the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists.”
  • At least a handful of prominent activists deemed the speech “terrible” for not condemning human rights abuses in stronger terms. “He told us to forget the past, to forget the horror and pain of exiles,” Ailer Gonzalez told the Guardian. “He talked about what he believed but didn’t talk about what is happening.”
  • Other Cubans found much to like in the speech. “It was a beautiful speech, he said things I think,” one said, while another praised him for lauding democracy and its pillars in front of the country’s communist leaders: “this man is brave.”
  • And Castro saw personally saw the president off to the stairs of Air Force One, in a scene that starkly contrasted Obama’s arrival on Sunday night. The American was greeted by a small group of diplomats in a downpour of rain, and left the country with to waves and smiles from the brother of a man considered a US enemy for nearly six decades.

With all the pageantry past, what to make of the great show of respect – despite occasional outbursts from Raúl Castro to the press – between the Cuban president and Barack Obama?

A strategy of influence that is more than a little awkward, writes the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson:

Politeness is the operative word for Obama’s visit, replacing an enmity so historic and baroque that, just a decade ago, the U.S. Embassy – then known as the US “Interests Section” – went so far as to erect an electronic signboard that carried a ticker-tape of anti-Castro news.

In response, an outraged Fidel Castro set up a forest of black flags to block the signboard. The sign was reportedly erected in response to the anti-imperialist tribune established outside the Embassy building, which hosted a raucous barrage of anti-Yankee speeches and demonstrations. … Today, the posters around town are of Obama and Raúl Castro, with their two countries’ flags side by side.

Anderson then notes that one of the president’s top advisers, Ben Rhodes, spent Monday evening repeating that rapprochement is “all about promoting openness, more and more of it, in order to make the discourse between the two countries and inside Cuba as free as possible.”

‘We would like the diversity of opinion in Cuban society to be more publicly exposed,” was how Rhodes put it.

The subtext to this, of course, is that by reaching out directly to Cuban civil society and to its budding private sector, the US government is reaching around the Cuban state to open a direct dialogue with its citizens in a way that was impossible during the more than half-century deep freeze.

When Obama and Castro finished their press conference, Castro reached over and grabbed one of Obama’s arms in an attempt to raise it in a joint salute. The choreography was a little awkward and, for a moment, there it was – the perfect depiction, somehow, of two leaders who represent nations that were once fierce enemies and have yet to figure out how to become fast friends.

You can read the full piece here.

American and Cuban diplomats were not just concerned with relations between their two countries over the last few days – they were also instrumental in talks between the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas.

The war between the leftist rebels, who are on the US list of terror groups, and the government has lasted more than 50 years and cost more than 200,000 lives. Reuters reports on Secretary of State John Kerry’s unprecedented part in the talks:

Kerry was encouraged by progress in the Colombian peace process after meeting on Monday in Havana with representatives of Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrilla group and the Bogota government, a State Department spokesman said.

Kerry met the two sides separately and called for them to redouble their efforts to resolve the remaining issues in the talks, Mark Toner said in a statement.

His involvement, at the request of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, marked the first time a US secretary of state had met with negotiators from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) since peace talks started in Havana more than three years ago.

Kerry. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The meeting between the Bogotá delegation and Kerry was “very productive,” government negotiator Humberto de la Calle told journalists.

“There were extraordinarily concrete elements,” de la Calle said. “For example, the announcement of help from the United States relating to the security of people who lay down arms, which is a critical subject at the talks.”

The FARC thanked the US for its support of the peace talks and said they hope to reach a final peace agreement in the coming months.

“On a not-distant date we will give good news to the country and the world – that Colombia has reached peace,” the rebel group said in a statement on its website.


As Obama flies off, Raul gazes up into the sky with a Mona Lisa smile. What, I wonder, is going through his mind.

— jonathanwatts (@jonathanwatts) March 22, 2016

Obama departs Cuba

The Rays are up 3-0 at the bottom of the seventh, but Barack Obama is off to Air Force One before the game has ended.

Cuban president Raúl Castro is there to see him and the first family off.

Raul didn't welcome Obama at the airport when he arrived but he gives him warm send off at steps of Air Force One. Friendship formed.

— jonathanwatts (@jonathanwatts) March 22, 2016

Raul Castro, who didn't greet Obama at the airport, is seeing him off in a very smiley walk to Air Force One

— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) March 22, 2016

At the end of the fifth the Rays are still up 3-0 over the Cuban national team, which has five hits to Tampa Bay’s three.

The field reflected in the sunglass of President Barack Obama.
The field reflected in the sunglass of President Barack Obama. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The Tampa Bay Rays at bat against the Cuban national team.
The Tampa Bay Rays at bat against the Cuban national team. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP
Cuban fans cheering the national team.
Cuban fans cheering the national team. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Some of the first words spoken by Barack Obama to Raúl Castro after the leaders met in the Palace of the Revolution on Monday were unexpected: “we had a great dinner.” (The US president was answering his Cuban counterpart’s question about how he liked Havana so far.) My colleague Lisa O’Carroll has trekked to the restaurant where the Obamas dined on Sunday night, and met its owner there.

The atmospheric San Cristobal Paladar restaurant, in a run-down backstreet in central Havana, is set to be the hottest spot in town after Obama and his family made a surprise visit on their first night in Cuba.

Owner Carlos Marquez first learned of the president’s visit when 10 secret service men suddenly arrived at his restaurant on Sunday night.

“I got no warning. It was a total surprise,” Marquez said, beaming with pride about a restaurant that struggled to be accepted as a private enterprise when it opened in the 1990s.

“There were about 10 security, at the front, the back, up there,” he said with a gesture to the floor upstairs.

Obama, Michelle, their two daughters and the first lady’s mother dined in an atmospheric private room, adorned with books, photos of famous (now less famous) guests and Marquez and his family.

A keepsake.
A keepsake. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

Obama had filet minion with three sauces: mushroom, pepper and San Rafael sauce, a speciality of chef Mario-Calzado Frias.

Michelle opted for “Havana Temptation”, a beef with banana dish, and Sasha and Malia opted for a pork main.

Marquez proudly told how the Obamas, along with Michelle’s mother Marian Lois Robinson, paired the dishes with a Spanish Ribera del Duero, a red wine from the Conde de San Cristobal estate which retails in the UK at £17.99 (about $25).

“They didn’t finish it,” Marquez said. “They drank about three quarters”.

Cubans in the know have interpreted Obama’s choice as a subtle geature of support for private entreprise: San Cristobal was one of the first private restaurants to open when regulations relaxed somewhat in the 1990s. About 75% of Trip Advisor reviewers rated the restaurant as “excellent”. From now readers will be lucky to get a reservation

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” since Marquez. “I am over the moon.”

This is the £17.99 Spanish wine Obama and Michelle chose with their meal at San Cristobal restaurant in Havana!

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 22, 2016

Back to the game, for the moment – the Rays have just scored a home run, knocking two men around the bases for scores.

It’s 3-0, top of the fourth, with two outs.

The game. #MLBinCuba

— Margaret Talev (@margarettalev) March 22, 2016

The ESPN commentators revert back to baseball. They tease Obama about struggling to do the first pitch of a baseball game – a presidential tradition that has proven harrowing for several presidents.

“I’ve talked to President Bush about this,” Obama says, observing that a president by definition has to be able to cope with extraordinary stress. “Nothing is more stressful than throwing out a first pitch, because they just hand you the ball.”

He quickly adds “I have not grounded” the ball – he means he has managed to get the ball the 60ft from the pitcher’s mound to the catcher at home plate. He does qualify the point of pride, though: “the first time I did not ground it was because [catcher Albert] Pujols saved me.”

He waxes a little philosophical. “Ultimately what this game is about is good will, and the recognition that people are people. but we can’t forget that there are some larger stakes involved in this.”

The president again recalls his meeting with Cuban dissidents: “a couple of them had been imprisoned just yesterday, one of them still had cuts as a consequence of handcuffs that had been placed on him.”

It’s important, he says, to “appreciate the ability for us to meet and talk and dialogue, but we can’t forget the fact that families have experienced pain. And our values are ones that are contrary to some of the values here.”

“There’s a lot of stuff wrong in the world,” he says, before pointing to his daughters nearby to illustrate that the world changes, too. “You can see,” he says, “my daughters were talking to President Castro’s grandchildren.”

“You hope the next generation doesn’t carry over some of the scars, some of the legacies of the past.”

Raul Castro and the Obamas.
Raul Castro and the Obamas. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Obama: terrorists cannot defeat America or disrupt our lives

One of the ESPN commentators asks Obama about the terror attacks in Belgium earlier on Tuesday

“It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world,” Obama says. “You want to be respectful and understand the gravity.”

Obama. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

He explains why it was important to him to attend the baseball game as planned despite the tragedy in Europe. “The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”

He says that “one of my most powerful memories” of his presidency was “watching Boston respond after the marathon [bombing]. And when [Boston Red Sox player David] Ortiz went out, and said – probably the only time America didn’t have a problem with some person on live TV – was when he talked about Boston, how strong it is.”

“That is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists.”

“They cannot defeat America. They don’t produce anything, they don’t have a message that appeals” to Muslims or non-Muslims, he continues.

“What they can do is scare us, and make people afraid and disrupt our daily lives, and as long as we don’t allow that to happen, we’re going to be OK.”

Bottom of the second inning, Cuban’s up to bat. The Cubans have a man on first base, but he’s caught off it by the pitcher. One out.

The second batter walks to first, and the third hits a high ball and is caught out.

Barack Obama is being interviewed meanwhile by ESPN, who’ve asked him about his meeting with Cuban dissidents earlier today. “What I said to them is we will continue to speak out loudly about things we care about, and that is not going to change,” Obama says.

“They were in a position to blame all the problems they have here on the United States,” he goes on, arguing that the change in policy increases US leverage to encourage change in Cuba.

Another ESPN commentator asks him about “that’s the power of baseball, it can change attitudes sometimes in was that politicians can never change, that a speech can’t change.

“All those kids who grew up watching the Brooklyn Dodgers, and all of a sudden they’r rooting for a black man [to succeed] on the field.” He says “that’s a legacy” he wants to continue.

“What it did was it taught America that it’s the skills, its’s the talent, it’s the character, and not the color that matters.”

He says “we still have a long way to go and that’s true in every day life and in the sport,” and he alludes to the small number of African American and Latino managers. He says this ties in with his message to the Cuban people, that it’s “not that we’re perfect but that we have the capacity to change”. He says Jackie Robinson exemplified that.

Obama and Raul Castro.
Obama and Raúl Castro. Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

And the Rays score! A ground hit into right field sends the man on second base racing all the way round to home. The ump rules it safe and the American team strikes first against the Cubans.

Obama shakes hands with Castro, and both men are all smiles in the stands.

The next batter is caught out, ending the half of the inning.

The Rays get a man on second base after a batter hits a double into center field – but the Cubans got two preceding batters out.

Obama’s glad to see something go the American team’s way, but he’s struggling to get his wife into it. He gives her a couple playful shakes on the arm to try to get her excited about the hit.

Barack and Michelle Obama, their daughters, and Raul Castro.
Barack and Michelle Obama, their daughters, and Raul Castro. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Workers prepare the field.
Workers prepare the field. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Cuba fans cheering.
Cuba fans cheering. Photograph: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA

The first inning: the Cubans knock the Rays’ batters out 1-2-3, and then get two men on bases in the second half of the inning.

But the Rays manage to escape the inning scoreless, thanks to a double play to take the runners out.

The first pitch of the game – Cuba to the Ray’s batter, who’s eventually out.

First pitch. Baseball diplomacy in Havana.

— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 22, 2016


and here it is: Obama doing the wave

— Colin Campbell (@BKcolin) March 22, 2016

And now they are releasing doves! They've certainly left the best till last on this trip.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016


A chorus sings La Bayamesa, and then the Star Spangled Banner. The Obamas are singing. When it ends the crowd roars again, and a flock of doves comes hurtling out of the stands and around the stadium. It’s time for some baseball.

The Obamas and Castro.
The Obamas and Castro. Photograph: YouTube


The Rays and the Cuban national team are being announced player by player. The crowd is decidedly more excited about the home team, who get played onto the field by mambo.

Every player from both teams comes out with a little kid at their side.

Cuban players.
Cuban players. Photograph: YouTube

Baseball diplomacy: Barack Obama, Raúl Castro and Michelle Obama.

Obama and Castro.
Obama and Castro. Photograph: YouTube

Wearing sunglasses and chewing gum, Barack Obama arrives in the stadium, with daughters and wife right behind him.

Not far behind the first family is Raúl Castro, and the presidents’ seats turn out to be right next to each other near one of the dugouts. Secretary of state John Kerry shakes Castro’s hand, and the crowd has gone wild at the sight of the presidents together.

Huge cheers from the Cuban crowd here as the Obama family take to their seats below us

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

Still waiting for the national anthems – but John Kerry has arrived and the crowd’s doing the wave.

The wave is universal: at Estadio Latino Americano ahead of Rays-Cuba game

— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) March 22, 2016

Getting in the mood at the stadium – the crowd’s loudly chanting “Cuba”.

Cuban state TV has also got the game, and is airing it online here.

The Guardian’s DC bureau chief Dan Roberts is in the stands of the Estadio Latino Americano, where the baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team is about to begin.

They have been playing baseball in Cuba since 1864, but there can have been few more eagerly anticipated games than that between the Cuban national team and a representative of Major League Baseball, the Rays.

Clashes between the American and Cuban sides are rare, but a chance to best a Florida team in front of Barack Obama during the first trip by a US president since 1926 provides extra excitement that has given this stadium a deafening buzz.

Certainly the long lines and chaotic crush to enter the ground suggests that this is the hottest ticket in town.

Cuba’s president Raul Castro is also expected to attend, making this – not the spats over economic and political reform – the real test of competing systems.

Major League Baseball has been lobbying hard for a relaxation of labour laws so it can hire some of Cuba’s top talent to play in the US.

We are advised to expect a very different style of play today today: fast-paced and frantic, without television advertising to worry about.

With Cuban jazz echoing around the Estadio Latino Americano and not a billboard or television screen in sight, it feels in fact like we’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s.

The crush getting into the big baseball game between the Cuban national side and MLB's Tampa Bay Rays was insane.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016


Back out on the streets of Havana, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll has met a state employee who minces no words about how hard life in Havana can be, and the turn toward tourism as the island cracks open its doors to the world.

“Isabella” is a state employee in the picturesque Cuban town of Cienfuegos, famed for its French-inspired classical architecture.

Isabella is sick of her government job. She earns about $20 a month and dreams of opening a bed and breakfast.

To Cubans, opening your home to tourists, is like awarding yourself the lottery. Isabella says she used to be “a Fidelista” until a few years ago.

“I turned 42 and I thought, ‘42 years on this earth and for what?’ Nothing. I earn 20 pesos a month working for the government. It’s nothing. I’m tired of working for nothing. People are hungry here. I need money for food for clothes for shoes.”

A public phone.
A public phone. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

If she could open a bed and breakfast, known as “casa particulare” she feels she would be minted, able to reel in at least $20 a night per bedroom.

A mother of a 15-year old boy, she is better off than most but had to emigrate first. She lived with her parents and wanted a place of her own, but it was impossible on her salary. “I worked for two years in Italy like a slave, cleaning rooms and subjected to racism.

“I worked every hour to save 6,000 pesos to buy a house. She wants to open a casa particulare, or bed and breakfast but can’t because her home is an hour from the tourist centre of the town. She Looked at a five bedroom colonial house on the waterfront but it would cost $90,000.

Trinidad Cuba.
Trinidad Cuba. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

“If you have 90k you are a criminal, nobody has that kind of money,” she says

Tourism has a bright future in Cuba, with up to 80 direct daily flights from the US predicted in the coming year. But in cities like Havana and picture postcard towns like Trinidad, a world heritage site already full to bursting, the country is straining to cope with unprecedented demand.

Once a rare sight, tourists from the US, Germany, France, the UK and Canada in particular are descending in droves and turning places like Trinidad into something like a human zoo. Cuba received a record 3.42 million tourists last year up 17% on 2014, and it is difficult to see how its crumbling hotels and unprepared residents can absorb any more.

State owned hotels in the capital range from the famous National hotel and elegant colonial gems such as Hotel Seville, a setting in Graham Green’s Our Man in Havana are out of reach for the majority at between $200 and $600 a night.

On the other end of the spectrum are decrepit options such as Hotel Lincoln, where I stayed last night, at $49 a night.

In between are the casa pariculares. such as the elegant colonial house Hostal Balcones, typically cost $25 to $59 a night but there are still not enough to cope with the numbers.

Despite some scamming taxi drivers, Cuba is notably a safe place to walk around at any time of day without watching your wallet. People are exceptionally friendly, and often invite you into their home – one local invited me into her home yesterday to watch Obama.

Cienfuegos. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

T minus 40 minutes to baseball.

Serious crowd crush to get into stadium but Tampa Bay Rays vs Cuban national team already has the look of epic game.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

David Wright, an American living in Cuba, confirmed that the Obama visit was off limits for the Cuban public. “I would have loved to see my president,” he said.

David Wright, a rare sight - an American living in Havana. Would hv loved to see Obama at baseball but not allowed.

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 22, 2016

“We only heard this morning on the news that he was giving the speech here and we raced to get into town but the whole place was in shut down and we missed it.”

An avid baseball fan, he also tried in vain to get a ticket to the Obama game. “I got up early and went to the embassy every day for two weeks,” he said.

“My wife’s step mother is a Cuban diplomat. We tried to pull every string but for the general public it was impossible. It’s just dignitaries and a handful of invitees.”

So few Cubans allowed see Obama visit. Just hotel staff inside cordon. Such a shame for Cuban people.

— lisa o'carroll (@lisaocarroll) March 22, 2016

After his speech, Obama met with dissidents and local leaders at the new US embassy.

He told the White House press corps, Guardian DC bureau chief Dan Roberts among them, that he’d met some of the activists before, in Miami and at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Berta Soler, leader of the activist group called Ladies in White, was in the room, as was Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman of Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation. According to that group, there were 2.555 detentions for political reasons in Cuba in January and February alone.

Below are the president’s remarks, per the pool report.

“All of the individuals around this table have shown extraordinary courage,” he said. “They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about. Some of them represent specific constituencies inside of Cuba.

“Some of them have broader concerns regarding democracy, the ability to speak freely, worship freely, or assemble or are advocating on behalf of democratic practices here in Cuba.

“There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some very recently. And as I have said consistently, part of our policy with respect to engagement with Cuba is not simply me meeting with President Castro or government-to-government relations. Much of this is a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape US policy.

“I want to thank all of them for being here. It requires oftentimes great courage to be active in civic life here in Cuba.

“This is an area where we continue to have deep differences with the Cuban government. My hope is that by listening and hearing from them that we can continue to refine our policy in such a way that ultimately the Cuban people are able to live freely and prosperously.”

At start of meeting with Cuban dissidents and others, Pres says he wants to hear directly from them.

— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 22, 2016


Key points of Obama's speech

A summary of Barack Obama’s speech to the Cuban people from Havana. At the moment the president is meeting with activists and local leaders.

  • “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the cold war in the Americas,” Obama told a crowd of Cuban leaders, celebrities and citizens. “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” he said. “It is time for us to look forward together. Un futuro de esperanza.”
  • The president told Raúl Castro “you need not fear” freedom of speech and the voices of the Cuban people, and declared his own beliefs in basic rights to protest, religion and free and democratic elections. But he promised that despite these differences “we will not impose our political or economic system on you.”
  • He conceded to Castro that the US still struggles with healthcare, education and massive inequality, but still subtly urged Cubans toward change. Self-employment is “about being yourself” and not capitalism, he said, adding: “There’s still enormous problems in our society. But democracy is the way we solve them.
  • Obama also called for unity against “the scourge of terrorism, saying the US “will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium” in hunting down the perpetrators of a terror attack that killed 34 people on Tuesday.
  • At least a handful of prominent dissidents deemed the speech “terrible” for not condemning human rights abuses in stronger terms. “He told us to forget the past, to forget the horror and pain of exiles,” Ailer Gonzalez told the Guardian. “He talked about what he believed but didn’t talk about what is happening.”
  • Other Cubans found much to like in the speech. “It was a beautiful speech, he said things I think,” one Cuban told the Guardian, while another praised him for lauding democracy and its pillars in front of the country’s communist leaders: “this man is brave.”


But not all Cubans are so critical of Barack Obama’s speech, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports from Havana. She watched the speech with staffers at the Parque Central Hotel.

“It was a beautiful speech, he said things I think: we have to forget the past and thing of the future,” said Sahely Monduy, one of the staff at the Parque Central hotel lucky enough to watch live feed of Obama’s speech.

“It will be difficult for Obama when he goes back because he has opponents who want the blockade to stay. But we hope,” she added.

“It’s good for the Cuban people to have a new relationship. It was a great speech,” said her colleague William Guerrero.

hotel staff
Hotel staff. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Jon Watts, also met a Cuban who liked the speech.

“Obama said something really special in this speech. He said we are all Americans,” said businesswoman Tania Livia. “In the past US always looked down on us as ‘Latin Americans’. It was a stigma.”

And the AP’s Andrea Rodriguez watched with a Mrs Delsi. “This man is brave,” Delsi said.

Este hombre es valiente, dice sra Delsi mirando discurso de #Obama

— Andrea Rodríguez (@ARodriguezAP) March 22, 2016


Dissident deems speech 'terrible'

At least one prominent Cuban dissident has found Obama’s speech wanting: my colleague Jonathan Watts listened to the speech with Ailer Gonzalez, a pro-democracy activist and the wife of a dissident detained on Sunday in the middle of a peaceful protest.

We watched in a home full of plants, paintings and jazz posters. The television is a throwback to an earlier age. Reception was very grainy and the sound cut from time to time. Gonzalez’s views are fairly representative of the pro-democracy activists, if not the Cuban population at large.

She was decidedly worked up by this speech, but not in the way Obama would have like. She shook her head and groaned at the talk of salsa and Gloria Estefan.

“So weak! Bullshit! So far this speech is a gift to Raúl Castro. He will love this.”

The activist started hurling curses at the television. But the dissident household quieted when Obama talks of the need for rule of law, freedom of assembly, for democratic elections and for the right to protest without fear.

“That’s the only good part so far,” Ailer said. “But there’s a difference between saying, ‘I believe in this,’ and stating, ‘this [oppression of activists] is actually happening now in Cuba.’ Because it is.”

Obama’s talk of a “new era” drew only snorts of derision. “So we are in a new era with the same old dictator? That’s a total contradiction!”

As the audience applauded Obama’s speech, Ailer grew incandescent with rage. “That was a speech that will perpetuate the dictatorship. He didn’t challenge them. He didn’t mention the word ‘opposition’ even once.

“He told us to forget the past, to forget the horror and pain of exiles. He talked about what he believed but didn’t talk about what is happening. It was exactly what I expected from him. It was terrible.”

Obama: time to leave the past behind

Sometimes history starts small, Obama says in the conclusion of his speech.

|The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty,” he goes on, “but the recognition of a common humanity. The reconciliation of a people bound by blood and the belief in one another – that’s where progress begins.”

He calls on the young people of to move their country forward – another subtle call for them to walk toward democracy. Then he makes one final nod to the past, saying the Americas’ histories “encompass revolution and conflict, struggle and sacrifice, retribution and now reconciliation.

“It is time now for us to leave the past behind. It is time for us to look forward together. Un futuro de esperanza” – a future of hope.

“My time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people can do. We will make this journey” together, he says.

He delivers the closing line of the speech in a quieter tone: “Si se puede” – yes we can. “Muchas gracias.”

Barack Obama waves after delivering remarks.
Barack Obama waves after delivering remarks. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Obama speaks of the Cuban exiles and their children in the United States: “I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful and sometimes violent separation. They love Cuba. A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong, that’s why their heartache is so great.”

“This is not just about politics. This is about family,” he says.

Obama adds that “the home that was lost, the bond that was broken” – these are the trials of Cubans and Cuban Americans.

“People are people and Cubans are Cubans,” he says. “The reconciliation of the Cuban people,” between children of revolutions and exiles, he says, is central to Cuba’s future.

'New era of the Americas'

Obama then lists some of the joint projects the US and Cuba have already begin: brokering peace in Colombia’s 50-year guerrilla war, fighting Ebola in Africa, etc.

Then the president recalls first meeting Raúl Castro at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, and that they recognized the South African leader’s example.

“We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences,” he says. But as we normalize our relations I believe we can foster a new sense of unity in the Americas.

“We are all Americans,” he says in Spanish. He urges American countries to relax their grip on ideologies and the disputes between them. “We are in a new era.”


Do not fear free speech, Obama tells Castro

“There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change. Many suggested that I come here and ask the people to tear something down,” Obama continues. He says he wants Cubans to lift something up.

I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba, he goes on.

“The future of Cuba has to be in the hands of the Cuban people,” he says in Spanish.

Then he addresses Castro directly: he tells him“you need not fear” the voices of the Cuban people. He says he hopes Cuba will play a large part in the western world.

“My hope is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.”

Cuban President Raul Castro waves as he arrives.
Cuban President Raul Castro waves as he arrives. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters


“Now there’s no secret our governments disagree,” Obama goes on, again referring to “frank” conversations with Raúl Castro.

“Economic inequality, the death penalty, racial discrimination, wars abroad. That’s just a sample, he has a much longer list,” Obama jokes. “But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand,” he says, welcomes the disagreements.

“We do have too much money in American politics. But in America it’s still possible for sombeody like me,” he goes on, “to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land. That’s what’s possible in America.”

Because of those freedoms, because of those debates, he’s able to stand there as African American president of the United States, he says.

“There’s still enormous problems in our society. But democracy is the way we solve them.”

He then talks about expanding healthcare, gay rights, fighting inequality, and the fact that there were two Cuban American Republicans running for president and a woman and a democratic socialist still in the 2016 presidential race.

“Who would have believed that back in 1959?” That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.”

There are fewer than couple of dozen people clapping in here now as Obama calls for free and open elections, and end to arbitrary detention.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016


“I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with healthcare, and education,” Obama says.

“I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear. To organize and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully. And that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.”

“I believe that every person should have the freedom to exercise their faith peacefully and publicly.”

“And yes I believe … [in] free and democratic elections. Not everybody agrees with me on this.”

“But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people and people around the world.”


He then says that these reforms require “the free and open exchange of ideas” – a veiled call for freedom of speech.

“I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American president. Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit. Ignored poverty, enabled corruption.”

“Since 1959 we’ve been shadowboxers in these politics,” he says. “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it”

“We will not impose our political or economic system on you. We recognize that every country, every people,” must choose their own model he says.

But he insists he needs to be honest with the Cuban people. As Marti said, “liberty is the right of every man to be honest,” Obama quotes the poet.

Raul Castro gestures from a balcony after arriving to hear Barack Obama.
Raul Castro gestures from a balcony after arriving to hear Barack Obama. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA


“Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America,” Obama says. “It’s about being yourself.”

He talks about some of the men and women he met yesterday at an entrepreneur event. “Hope begins,” he says, “with the ability to earn your own living.”

This is the logic in the financial and trade reforms, and encouragement of travel between the US and Cuba, Obama explains.

“As president of the United States I have called on our Congress to lift the embargo.”

The audience claps enthusiastically to that. Obama says it’s a burden on the Cuban people. “Even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba” – small applause for that.

“Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries Cubans can earn. The internet should be available across the island … There’s no limitation on the United States for Cuba to take these steps. It’s up to you.”

“I believe in the Cuban people,” Obama tells the crowd, in Spanish and English.

The US is normalizing relations with those people, he says. Cuban young people should believe in hope – not “blind optimism” or cynicism – he goes on.

“I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world,” he says. “In the United States we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build. It’s called Miami.”

Then he praises cuentapropistas and the ingenuity used to keep relic vehicles running. Cuba’s system of education is “an extraordinary resource”, he tells the crowd, to big applause.

"Many people ask 'why now?'," says Obama. "One simple answer. What the US was doing was not working"

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

The president gets to the differences between nations. A one party system vs two parties. Socialism vs an open market.

But despite these differences, he says, he and Raúl Castro are working together to normalize relations and create new joint initiatives: trade, healthcare, science and the environment, etc.

“Many people on both sides of this debate have asked, why now? Why now? There is one simple answer. What the United States was doing was not working. We have to have the courage to face that truth.”

“A policy of isolation designed for the cold war had no place in the 21st century.”

He invokes Martin Luther King Jr.: “We should not fear change, we should embrace it.” This gets applause.

Obama praises the history and love of art – Ernest Hemingway gets a nod – sports that Americans and Cubans share: Jackie Robinson and baseball, Muhammad Ali and boxing.

“Even as our governments became adversaries our people continued to share these many passions,” he says. He goes on about these common values: “a sense of patriotism, and a shared pride. A lot of pride.”

Family and education are also shared values, he says: “That’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration,” in a longer history of friendship.

Obama: I am here to bury the cold war

Obama then quotes José Martí: “I’m growing a white rose.”

He then says he comes with a word of peace.

“Havana is only 90 miles from Florida but to get here we had to travel a great distance, over barriers of history, of ideology, barriers of pain and separation,” he says.

He says that American battleships crossed those waters “to liberate but also to exert control over Cuba,” and “that short distance has been crossed by hundreds and thousands of Cuban exiles.”

Obama. Photograph: Desmond Boylan/AP

Obama then describes the long and tortured history between nations: the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war, the history of colonialism.

“One constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba. I have come here to bury the last remnant of the cold war in the Americas.”

“I am here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuba people,” he adds.

“The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.”

“The United States and Cuba are like two brothers that’ve been estranged for many year,” he goes on. “We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans. Cuba was in part built by slaves who were brought from Africa … Like the United States, Cuba can trace her heritage to both slaves and slave owners.”


World must unite against terror, Obama says

Barack Obama takes the stage in el Gran Teatro.

“To president Castro, to the people of Cuba, thank you so much for the warm welcome,” he says. “It is an extraordinary honor to be here today.”

I want to comment on the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Brussels. The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium and we stand in solidarity with them.

“We will do whatever is necessary to support our friends and ally Belgium in bringing to justice,” he adds.

The world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality, or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism. We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people around the world.”

"Pensamientos y oraciones del pueblo de EE.UU. están con el pueblo de Bélgica" –@POTUS sobre atentados en Bélgica

— USA en Español (@USAenEspanol) March 22, 2016


President Raúl Castro has entered the theater alongside other officials and Cuban notables, including the namesake for the theater itself: the 70-year-old former ballet star Alicia Alonzo.

Cuban president Raul Castro receives sustained, coordinated applause as he enters theatre to hear Obama speech.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

Famed Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonzo arrives at the Gran Teatro for Obama speech - the theater is named after her

— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) March 22, 2016

Dissident: we need action from Obama, not words

Barack Obama has just entered the theater, Cuban state TV shows, but some of the activists and dissidents he’s going to meet afterward are not included in the audience who’ll hear hims speak there. Latin America correspondent Jonathan Watts is with activists listening in from outside the hall.

Ailer Gonzalez, a democracy activist and the wife of Antonio Rodiles, the founder of Citizen Demand for Another Cuba. She has a small purple mark by her left eye, bruising on her shoulder and broken glasses.

“They beat us when we tried to get in line at the hotel yesterday,” she explained.

Her husband is not here because he is among the civil rights activists who have been invited to the US embassy to meet the president after his speech this morning. This is because activists were blocked from meeting the pope in September.

Gonzalez is very unhappy about Obama’s trip and has low expectations of the speech. “I saw his press conference with Raúl yesterday. It was naive. So far he has not clearly condemned human rights abuses in Cuba, despite brutal beatings and arrests of many of us at the demonstration on Sunday.

“Following this insipid direction I expect in his speech he will talk only in general terms about freedom. It will be vague, maybe even poetic, but there will be nothing of significance. We need stronger action, not weak words.”


Obama’s speech is intended for the Cuban people, and set to air on Cuban television (or at least carried by the YouTube channel of Foreign Ministry), but Cuban government officials are filing into their seats in the theater as well.

Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel nervously eyes assembled guests & media ahead of Obama's big speech in Havana

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

Some shots of el Gran Teatro, where Barack Obama will soon address the Cuban people and where my colleague Dan Roberts is reporting for the Guardian.

Theatre where Obama will "speak to the people" is beginning to fill up, but it feels more like a night at the opera

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

Eight senators and more than two dozen representatives joined Obama on the trip to Cuba, and most of them seem to be in the theater, Dan reports. Five of the members of Congress are Republicans, including two of the senators.

This feels more like the State of the Union than Cuba. Senators Durbin, Klobuchar and Leahy just walked in by press.

— Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) March 22, 2016

The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson is also in the hall: “The Grand Theater of Havana is looking splendid; there’s a lot of anticipation for Obama’s speech.”

#El Gran Teatro de La Habana esta esplendido; aca hay mucha expectativa por el discurso de #Obama. #CubaVisit

— Jon Lee Anderson (@jonleeanderson) March 22, 2016

My colleague Lisa O’Carroll is outside the theater meeting Cubans around Havana. They’ve told her that though Barack Obama’s visit is exciting, nobody knows much about how it’s actually going or whether they’ll even get to see him.

Good morning from Havana where the Obama visit is, as far as the Cuban public are concerned, a virtually private visit, witnessed by the world’s media and the Cuban elite but not ordinary citizens of the capital.

Because there is no internet in the city outside the luxury hotels and special “wifi parks”, few in Havana seem to know much of Obama’s schedule this morning other than their city centre is in complete lock down.

The Prado, normally bustling with tourists is empty this morning as Havana is in lockdown.
The Prado, normally bustling with tourists is empty this morning as Havana is in lockdown. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

An army of volunteers is operating a human barrier at a six block radius from Parque Centrale, site of another symbolic speech on this three day historic trip.

It means nobody, apart from those who live in the old city, will get to see anything other than his lengthy convoy speeding down the ocean hugging boulevard, the Malecon.

His speech, scheduled for just after 10am, is at the Gran Teatro de la Habana will be made in front of an audience of 1,000 invitees.

Calle Virtudes, one of the street off the Prado closed at dawn.
Calle Virtudes, one of the street off the Prado closed at dawn. Photograph: Lisa O'Carroll

Welcome to our rolling coverage of Barack Obama’s second day in Cuba, a historic trip that was cast into shadow Tuesday morning by a series of explosions in Brussels that have left more than two dozen people confirmed dead.

The president will speak on the explosions, at least one caused by a suicide bomber, at about 10am ET, White House officials said.

His remarks will be part of a longer, previously planned speech to the Cuban people at el Gran Teatro, a colonial-era theater that stands by the capitol building. Obama will then meet dissidents and local leaders at the new US embassy.

This afternoon, Obama and Cuban president Raúl Castro will attend an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. On Monday Castro and Obama held the first bilateral talks between an American and Cuban president since revolutionaries took over the island in 1959, and at a press conference afterward Obama vowed an end to the US trade embargo.

At the same conference, Castro demanded the return of Guantánamo Bay and angrily defended Cuba’s record on human rights, denying the existence of political prisoners and criticizing the US for its lack of healthcare, education and equal pay. Obama was pressed by reporters – and by Cuban activists – to criticize the Castro regime for its repression of speech and other freedoms.

A bit of baseball diplomacy is expected at Tuesday’s game: not only will secretary of state John Kerry and American and Cuban diplomats attend, but Colombian and Farc negotiators are expected in the stands. The US and Cuba have been working to broker a peace between Bogotá and the Farc rebels, who have waged a 50-year war in Colombia and are on the US list of terror groups.

Finally, Obama will depart Cuba at about 4pm ET, ending the first visit by a US president to the island since Calvin Coolidge sailed there by battleship in 1928 and hailed the young country: “Today Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, and prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government.”


Alan Yuhas

The GuardianTramp

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