And that’s just what he’s doing: it’s the first time a sitting president has visited the country in almost ninety years, but Barack Obama isn’t just any president. He’s the first black President—a point isn’t lost on Afro-Cubans in particular, who hope his visit marks the beginning of a new era regarding relations between the United States and Cuba and vast improvements in the quality of life for all Cuban citizens.
Despite significant backlash from the GOP for his visit, Obama has been confident that it will be productive: “I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us —promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity,” the president said.
Cuba, a country rooted in African and Hispanic culture, is still marked by prevailing prejudice, racial inequality, and discriminatory hiring: “Afro-Cubans are underrepresented in the ranks of Cuba’s political and economic elites and make up a disproportionate number of the urban and rural poor. Black Cubans have benefited less than their white counterparts from closer relations with the United States. Relatively few hold coveted, lucrative jobs serving foreign visitors.” (Associated Press).
In his speech during a joint news conference in Havana, Cuba on Monday, March 21, Obama addressed controversial issues concerning relations between the United States and Cuba and differences of opinion about human rights, while Cuban president Raul Castro appeared resistant and uncomfortable, even, at times.
But Cubans remain hopeful. ““It totally satisfies my soul to be able to have lived to see this moment, a moment I never thought I would have seen,” said Carmen Diaz, 70, watching Mr. Obama’s arrival from her daughter’s living room. “I feel this visit of an American president to Cuba is being done in the most elegant way possible.”
Of course, one visit from President Obama won’t put an end to the problems that Afro-Cubans face, but it is certainly a step in the right direction—a step that has been decades in the making.