President Obama’s first full day in Cuba began with a trip into the heart of the Communist island nation’s seat of power: a visit to a local hero’s memorial followed by a meeting with his counterpart, Raul Castro, at the Palace of the Revolution.
Seeking to press Cuba into speedier economic reforms and improved human rights, Obama is the first American president to visit since Calvin Coolidge nearly 90 years ago. His bilateral discussion with Castro was not their first meeting, but was the most meaningful by far.
Obama has made a priority of seeking more help for large and small businesses — including the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have taken advantage of incremental economic opportunities and become entrepreneurs. Castro, brother of former president Fidel Castro, has insisted that Congress lift a decades-old economic embargo and pull the military out of Guantanamo Bay.
Looming over the visit is the Castro regime’s treatment of dissidents. Civil rights advocates said there were signs of a crackdown on some of the most outspoken of them in advance Obama’s arrival, and authorities have not let up on their arrests of protesters who take part in weekly demonstrations.
The president’s opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, who is of Cuban heritage, have criticized Obama for not being more outspoken about the plight of dissidents.
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