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, the current population of Cuba is 11,326,627. 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.
According to thereligionfaqs, 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.