The initial public event of President Barack Obama’s first full day in Cuba will be at Havana’s sprawling Revolution Square, where giant sculptures of revolutionary leaders Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos gaze down from ministry buildings. It’s home to the government palace, the seat of executive power, and the national library.
The plaza is where the government organizes massive patriotic marches and where in years past Fidel Castro made a habit of giving hours-long speeches under the blazing sun. Musical groups put on huge free concerts here, and Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis all celebrated Mass in the iconic space.
Towering over it is the Monument to Jose Marti, a white spire that’s visible from many parts of the city. The monument is a mainstay on itineraries of visiting foreign leaders, who, as Obama plans to do, invariably stop to lay a ceremonial wreath during state visits.
Marti is a poet and independence hero considered Cuba’s founding father. He’s embraced by both sides of the island’s political and geographical schism.
The Cuban government lionizes him as an almost mythical figure in the struggle to free the island from Spanish colonial rule. Exiles also claim him as their own, and his name is used by the U.S.-funded Radio and TV Marti which beam broadcasts critical of the Cuban government at the island.
President Barack Obama’s trip is getting coverage in Cuban state news media that’s respectful if muted compared to the global headlines about the visit.
Cuba’s main paper is the Communist Party organ Granma. It published a 560-word front-page article titled “Obama in Cuba on official visit” that dryly recounts the president’s first half-day in Cuba. Television news led with Obama’s trip then moved quickly to press conferences by Cuban officials about the country’s achievement in medical research and the difficulties posed by the U.S. trade embargo on the island.
The Communist government had dedicated more than a half-century to assertions of independence from the United States and it’s balancing its welcome of Obama with reminders that its system isn’t changing.
Videos circulating on social media showed a more enthusiastic reception. One taken with a cell phone from a building facing the restaurant where Obama dined Sunday night shows Cubans shouting “Obama!” to welcome him as his armored limousine arrives. He turns and waves to the people looking from their windows and rooftops.
Rapid global distribution of cellphone video taken in Cuba would have been impossible a year ago, before the country opened dozens of public Wi-Fi access spots around the country.
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