Obama Takes Big Step Towards Normalizing Cuban-American Relations

"This is a new day between our two countries."

President Obama touched down in Havana, Cuba at 4:19 p.m. on Sunday. His landing began the first visit to the country by an American leader since Calvin Coolidge's 1928 address at the Pan-American Conference.

The visit is part of an effort to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, something that has been on Obama's agenda for most of his term. After he met with Cuban President Raul Castro last night, the pair gave a joint press conference this morning. 

"This is a new day between our two countries," Obama said at the press conference. "For more than a half-century, the sight of a U.S. president here in Havana would have been unimaginable, but this is a new day."

Since July, Cuba has insisted that normalizing relations requires loosening of the economic sanctions that are still in place today. But that probably won't happen until some more strides are made by Cuba's government. For his part, Obama acknowledged that there are differences between the two countries' handling of human rights. He insisted part of overcoming those differences is addressing them directly, but the symbolism of Obama arriving and standing alongside Castro was momentous.

"If you meet Cubans here and Cubans meet Americans, they'll recognize people are people," Obama said. "And in that context I believe that change will occur."

Cover photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.