Written by Lahiru Fernando
22 Mar, 2016 | 7:35 am
U.S. President Barack Obama laid a wreath on Monday March 21 at the Monument to Jose Marti as he kicked off his first full day of state business on his historic trip to Cuba.
The iconic monument, completed in 1958 shortly before the Revolution, stands in the middle of the Plaza de la Revolucion in the Vedado neighbourhood of Havana. The monument is flanked by buildings with images of leftist icon Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, who, along with Fidel and Raul Castro, led rebels during the Cuban Revolution.
Marti is a renowned poet, writer, philosopher and freedom fighter, is a national hero to Cubans. He lived during the 1800s and led the country’s revolutionary war against Spain.
The ceremony kicked off a full day of state business where Obama is expected to press President Raul Castro for economic and democratic reforms while hearing complaints about continued U.S. economic sanctions. Following the ceremony Obama will be heading directly to the Palace of the Revolution where he will have his fourth and likely most substantial meeting with Castro.
The two leaders announced 15 months ago a rapprochement that works to end a Cold War-era dispute that lasted five decades and continued even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, they have deep differences to discuss as they attempt to rebuild the bilateral relationship.
Obama is under pressure from critics at home to push Castro’s government to allow dissent from political opponents and further open its economy. He has promised to talk about freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba. “I will raise these issues directly with President Castro,” he told the Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White in a March 10 letter.
Castro has said Cuba will not waver from its 57-year-old revolution and government officials say the United States needs to end its economic embargo and return the Guantanamo Bay naval base to Cuba before the two nations can enjoy normal relations.
Thwarted by Congress on the embargo, Obama has instead used his executive authority to loosen restrictions on trade and travel with the Caribbean island. Cuba has praised those measures but Castro will likely use the meeting on Monday to press Obama to go further.
Besides meeting Castro, he also plans to visit a state-owned micro brewery and attend a state dinner on Monday.
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