Obama’s visit to Cuba: state dinner, meeting with dissidents, and preempting the Rolling Stones

Barack Obama arrived in Cuba on Sunday, March 20, the first trip there by a US president in nearly a century. His arrival comes just months after restoring ties with the communist nation.

Obama’s visit coincided with another big event in Havana: a Rolling Stones concert, originally planned for Sunday evening. The band delayed its show until next Friday to accommodate for the president’s historic visit.

“At one point we thought [Obama] was coming to the show,” production manager Dale “Opie” Skjerseth told reporters. “He’s our opening act.” The Rolling Stones added the free show at the end of its Latin American tour.

Havana will be virtually shut down during the president’s visit. During Obama’s 48-hour tour, he will dine with Cuban president Raul Castro at a state dinner and meet with anti-government dissidents and civil society leaders.

“The Cubans aren’t sure what the US intentions are—whether this is being done because it is a Trojan horse or a hidden regime-change policy,” Carlos Gutierrez, a Havana-born Republican who was secretary of commerce under president George W. Bush, told the New York Times (paywall).

Some critics say Obama is visiting the country too early, before any major changes have taken place. Last month the two nations agreed to ease travel restrictions, but a decades-long trade embargo remains in place.

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