President Obama has become the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since long before the Cuban embargo began:
President Barack Obama embarked on Sunday on a historic trip to Cuba where a Communist government that vilified the United States for decades prepared a red-carpet welcome. Lifting off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, Obama headed for Havana where the sight of Air Force One, America's iconic presidential jet, touching down on Cuban soil would have been unimaginable not long ago.
The three-day trip, the first by a U.S. president in 88 years, is the culmination of a diplomatic opening announced by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014, ending a Cold War-era estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959. Obama, who abandoned a longtime U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba internationally, now wants to make his shift irreversible. But major obstacles remain to full normalization of ties.
Ahead of Obama's arrival, plainclothes police blanketed the capital with security while public works crews busily laid down asphalt in a city where drivers joke they must navigate "potholes with streets." Welcome signs with images of Obama alongside Castro popped up in colonial Old Havana, where the president and his family will tour later on Sunday.
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The American presence at the Guantanamo Prison Camp has been deeply contentious since even before terrorism suspects began to be housed there beginning in 2002. Now as President Obama prepares to make the first presidential visit to Cuba in almost 90 years, ecologists Joe Roman and James Kraska have published their case in the influential journal Science for creating a Guantanamo-based research center to study biodiversity in the Caribbean. The primary benefit of a Guantanamo Bay research station is symbolic. "The main goal is trying to take Guantanamo and make it an inspiring place, and redeem it," says Roman. But the case for Guantanamo Bay as a science lab goes beyond political optics. According to Roman and Kraska the land and the sea offer an ecosystem uniquely worthy of study. The research hub of Roman's dreams would be a state-of-the art facility to help understand how biodiversity loss can be prevented across the Caribbean. "A parcel of the land, perhaps on the developed southeastern side of the base, could become a 'Woods Hole of the Caribbean,' housing research and educational facilities dedicated to addressing climate change, ocean conservation, and biodiversity loss. With genetics laboratories, geographic information systems laboratories, videoconference rooms — even art, music, and design studios — scientists, scholars, and artists from Cuba, the United States, and around the world could gather and study. The new facilities could strive to be carbon neutral, with four 80-meter wind turbines having been installed on the base in 2005, and designed to minimize ecological damage to the surrounding marine and terrestrial ecosystems"
According to Roman the main idea is that science can be healing: a way to bring diverse nations together, a way to rectify a complicated history, and a way to help better the lives of all people through research. The biggest roadblock won't be the Obama administration but Congress. Republican lawmakers have derided Obama's preliminary framework for closing the prison so for the foreseeable future, the status quo will remain. But Roman can still dream. "At a certain point, I don't know when, that base is going to close. It's going to return to Cuba at some point. This is a great use of that property. You don't have many places in the world like that."
In an overhaul of one of his predecessor's signature legacies, President Donald Trump will redraw U.S. policy toward Cuba on Friday, tightening travel restrictions for Americans that had been loosened under President Barack Obama and banning U.S. business transactions with Cuba's vast military conglomerate.
Trump's changes are intended to sharply curtail cash flow to the Cuban government and pressure its communist leaders to let the island's fledgling private sector grow. Diplomatic relations reestablished by Obama, including reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, will remain. Travel and money sent by Cuban Americans will be unaffected, but Americans will be unable to spend money in state-run hotels or restaurants tied to the military, a significant prohibition.