Yesterday, President Obama landed in Cuba—the first US president to visit Cuba in nearly a century.
As he arrived, Obama used a Cuban phrase meaning "what's up?" when he tweeted: "¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people."[CN: Video may autoplay at link] Ahead of Obama's visit, "Cuban authorities arrested more than 50 dissidents who were marching to demand improved human rights."
"This is a historic visit," Obama said as he greeted US Embassy staff and their families at a Havana hotel. "It's an historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people."
A giant American delegation, estimated at somewhere between 800 and 1,200, swept into Havana this weekend, intent on closing a final chapter in cold war history and sealing the diplomatic legacy of Obama's presidency.
Joined by first lady Michelle Obama and his two daughters, Obama toured Old Havana by foot, walking gingerly on the slippery wet stones in front of the Havana Cathedral. The downpour notwithstanding, a few hundred people gathered in the square erupted in applause and shouted Obama's name as the first family stepped forward.
Members of the group, known as the Ladies in White, are used to the routine. They march each Sunday after Mass at a church in a suburb of Havana called Miramar and usually get arrested and detained for hours or days.There are a lot of good faith arguments on both sides of the debate about President Obama going to Cuba, and with whom he meets there. It's important to note that the Cuban people themselves are not united in their feelings about his visit. Some of them are thrilled; some of them are unhappy about it; some of them have mixed feelings about it, wishing that he'd centered more attention on human rights violations before he arrived.
Some in the group thought Cuban authorities would back off this Sunday out of respect for Obama's visit. Berta Soler, one of the founding members who has been marching since 2003, said while walking to the church Sunday morning that maybe they would be allowed to protest without getting arrested.
"Everything looks good so far," she said.
Despite dozens of international reporters in town for Obama's trip, the group was quickly rounded up in buses and police cars.
"For us, it's very important that we do this so President Obama knows that there are women here fighting for the liberty of political prisoners," Soler said before being arrested. "And he needs to know that we are here being repressed simply for exercising our right to express ourselves and manifest in a non-violent way."
There are also concerns about what normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up Cuba for US corporate investment, might mean—both good and bad—for vulnerable Cuban people. The potential for exploitation is evident and worrisome. The potential for economic growth and security for lots of people is also real.
At this point, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm hopeful. But I'm withholding judgment until I see how this trip goes, and how things start to take shape thereafter.