HAVANA. — US President Barack Obama was expected to turn from sightseeing to state business on his historic Cuba trip yesterday, pressing President Raul Castro for economic and democratic reforms while hearing complaints about continued US economic sanctions.
Obama and Castro will have their fourth meeting, likely their most substantial, at the Palace of the Revolution, where Castro and his predecessor, older brother Fidel Castro, have led Cuba’s resistance to US pressure going back decades.
Meanwhile, Obama’s trip, together with other fence-mending efforts by his administration, has triggered an enormous backlash from US demagogic presidential contenders. Given Obama’s lame-duck status, the effort to restore US-Cuba relations is expected to be full of twists and turns ahead if the United States refuses to renounce its arrogance, analysts say.
Both Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz slammed the greeting Obama and his wife received during their historic touch-down at a Cuban airport, saying the failure of Raul Castro to personally greet them as they exited Air Force One was a slap in the face to America.
Trump tweeted of Obama’s landing: “Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, and Raul Castro wasn’t even there to greet him. He greeted Pope and others. No respect.”
Trump then added Obama’s aides should have asked Cuban authorities who were going to meet the president at the airport. “If they say nobody, you don’t go if nobody’s there to greet him,” he said.
“We are amateur hour, folks. Obama should have turned around the plane and left.”
Castro, who doesn’t make frequent public appearances, nevertheless met Pope Francis personally at the airport in September, as well as Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill just a few weeks ago.
Cruz had even harsher words for Obama, saying the White House chief doesn’t even have any business visiting Cuba. Despite the harsh criticism from Republicans, Xinhua reported that Cuba hopes that Obama’s historic visit will help spur his country’s investment in the Caribbean island, a Cuban top official said Sunday.
The island seeks US investment in 12 economic segments, including renewable energy, oil exploration and tourism, Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca told a Press conference.
Following their diplomatic thaw after half a century of animosity, the two countries have been working to boost their economic ties for mutual benefit, said Malmierca, noting that the US business sector’s interest in entering the Cuban market has greatly increased.
“For example, last year more than 100 US delegations visited the island to explore trade opportunities, and took proposals away with them,” said Malmierca.
Meanwhile, 20 Cuban firms have expressed an interest to import goods from the United States, and are now waiting to seal deals in the next few months.
“We want to diversify our international economic ties to the largest extent. The more diverse the US-Cuba relationship is, the better and more sustainable chances we have to push forward political and social projects,” said Malmierca.
Yesterday, Obama was expected to attend a business forum with representatives from both countries, as well as US Trade Secretary Penny Pritzker.
The Cuban government on Sunday repeated its call for Washington to end its long-time economic and financial blockade to create new investment opportunities for both nations.
“We can co-operate in different sectors, such as energy, oil exploration, tourism, infrastructure and other areas, to boost US investment in Cuba. The blockade is the main obstacle to the full development of these ties,” said Malmierca.
Lifting the blockade and returning the territory occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantanamo are the conditions Havana has set for normalising ties with Washington after more than 50 years of animosity.
The Cuban government has ruled out making political changes on the island as a concession for the full restoration of relations with the United States, saying only its people can choose its political and economic system.
Obama arrived in Cuba on Sunday, and in the eyes of many observers, his trip is nothing but a discord-sowing manoeuvre to disintegrate the left-wing league in Latin America. — Xinhua/WND.