HAVANA (WSVN) — Residents in Cuba said they are eagerly anticipating President Barack Obama’s visit to the island nation, this weekend, in what is being considered another sign of warming relations between the two countries.
There’s been a lot of tidying up over the last several days ahead of the commander in chief’s arrival. He is expected to touch down at José Martí International Airport on Sunday.
7News cameras captured residents sweeping, painting and putting the finishing touches ahead of the historic occasion, but the preparations seemed to end there.
One of the first things Obama will see a billboard with the word "blockage" in large capital letters, with a noose around the island standing in for the "o." On the bottom, the billboard reads in Spanish, "The largest genocide in history."
It’s a stark contrast to the warm welcome Pope Francis received on his first visit to Cuba back in September. In a sign of the Cuban government opening up to the Catholic church, the main road from the airport into Havana was filled with flags with Francis’ picture during his visit.
There are no flags lining the roads ahead of Obama’s visit. Instead, the president will see colorful billboards showing Cuban children in school uniforms touting "education for all."
There was some activity at the port in Old Havana, where Obama is scheduled to give a speech to 200 businesspeople, Tuesday. But again, no pomp or circumstance for the American president.
Nevertheless, Cuban residents told 7News they remain hopeful for the president’s visit and what it could mean for their futures. "The Cubans in general are very happy, very positive-thinking," said Gerardo Alajol through a translator. "We had huge economic problems for a long time. We hope it’s all for the best."
Also speaking in Spanish, a Cuban woman echoed Alajol’s optimism. "This is great for our country, and we hope that the relations between the United States strengthen," she said.
Also awaiting Obama’s arrival is local resident Vladimir Bortunedo. "We’ve been waiting for him for a long time. He finally decided to come, and we’re excited about everything that’s happening," he said.
By comparison, the Cuban government seems to be taking a more business-as-usual approach about the visit. President Raúl Castro is not scheduled to meet Obama at the airport.
Obama’s first stop will be at the U.S. Embassy. Then he will head to Old Havana to do some sightseeing.