When Air Force One lands at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport Sunday afternoon, President Obama will quickly get a symbolic look at the daunting challenge he faces to make the changes he’s forged between the United States and Cuba a lasting—and meaningful—legacy of his presidency.
Through a series of executive actions beginning in 2009, Obama has eased restrictions on the half-century-old economic embargo that was imposed on Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. He’s loosened the ban on American travel to the island; opened the way for regularly scheduled commercial airline flights between the U.S. and Cuba; created more opportunities for U.S. firms to do business there; ordered a change in banking rules to make it easier for Cuba to use dollars in international financial transactions and reestablished diplomatic relations with Havana.
But as the plane that brings Obama, his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law to Cuba taxis down the airport’s only runway, it will pass two terminals that are chilling reminders of the still troubled relations between the United States and its largest Caribbean neighbor.
One is the terminal for all flights from the United States. It opened in 1988 and was renovated in 2010. A sprawling, high-security building, it is a symbol of the mistrust that’s defined relations between the United States and Cuba’s communist government for more than half a century.