Cuba. On March 20, US President Barack Obama landed in
Havana to visit Cuba as the first US president since 1928.
The two-day visit was a natural highlight of the process of
normalizing relations between the two countries that
President Obama was leading in establishing after more than
five decades of frosty relations. According to
countryaah, Obama was not received at
the airport by President Raúl Castro, but by Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodríguez, who of course did not go
unnoticed. The remaining differences between the two
countries also became evident during the following days.
After a private meeting between Obama and Castro, an
hour-long live press conference was held in which Castro was
hard at work on human rights, while Obama with diplomatic
skill balanced between praise to the Cuban regime for
contributing to diplomatic thawing and clarity against the
regime as such. He called lack of democracy a continuing
"annoyance", while Castro pointed out that over 50-year-old
US embargo against Cuba should be lifted in order to
continue normalization. He also blamed the United States for
double standards because human rights were not upheld on the
American Guantánamo base in Cuban territory, a subject Obama
avoided. Much talked about in international media was the
quirky end of the press conference, when Castro seemed to
want to raise Obama's hand in a common triumph gesture but
where Obama remained completely passive.
Obama also gave a live TV speech in which he defended
democracy and freedom of speech, while at the same time
praising Cuba's efforts in the healthcare and education
fields, declaring that the United States should suspend the
embargo on Cuba. Under the pseudonym, former leader Fidel
Castro, who turned 90 in August, in the Communist Party
newspaper Granma a few days later was strongly critical of
Obama's speech, rejecting, among other things, that Cuba
would need financial assistance from the United States. On
the last day of the visit, Obama welcomed 13 dissidents at
the newly opened US Embassy, among them Berta Soler,
leader of Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), and human
rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, praising them for
excessive civil disobedience. Dissidents' actions continued
during the year. In July, Guillermo Fariñas began his 24th
hunger strike in protest of political repression.
Hopes that Obama's visit would lead to further change
came as a shame when a month later the Cuban Communist Party
held its first congress in five years. Congress did not lead
to any major news. The continuity was made clear by the fact
that Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura, both 85,
were re-elected as the party's chairman and vice-chairman.
However, a few months later, thousands of small and
medium-sized private companies were legalized, especially in
the tourism industry.
November 25 came the news that Fidel Castro died in
Havana. He was cremated the following day and his ashes were
then brought to Santiago de Cuba in cortege, where he
initiated the revolution in 1956.