Cubans excited about Obama visit

CUBANS are excitedly anticipating the first visit to Cuba by a sitting American president in almost nine decades.

Carlos Maza is a 48-year-old refrigerator repairman who says he’s never seen anything like it in his life and calls it “incredible.”

Maza hopes US businesspeople and tourists will help the economy improve. He says change has been slow in Cuba, but the diplomatic opening is “a big step forward.”

Xiomara Sanchez said she feels “proud that (Obama) is coming to Cuba to find a way toward a friendship, a family, with us.”

The 60-year-old cafeteria worker also sees change happening slowly: “It hasn’t done much, but it has created some change.”

9:25 a.m.

It’s a typically sleepy Sunday morning along Havana’s Malecon boulevard, which is largely deserted a few hours ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba, except for a few joggers, fishermen and pelicans.

Roberto Albar is a 68-year-old retiree. He sees the thaw in US-Cuba relations as a sign that both countries can benefit from the relationship.

He says “we are practically neighbors” and Cuba’s political system “doesn’t mean we have to be enemies.”

Albar says he hasn’t seen any significant change in Cuba in the year since ties were restored. Pointing to his decaying house near the sea, he says “that’s falling down, and the poor are still poor.”

8:40 a.m.

The US has given the online lodging service Airbnb a special license that allows travelers from around the world to book stays in private homes in Cuba.

Airbnb was the first major American company to enter Cuba after American President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro declared detente on December 17, 2014.

The online service handles listing, booking and payments for people looking to stay in private homes instead of hotels. Cuba has become its fastest-growing market, with about 4 000 homes added over the last year.

Airbnb had only been allowed to let US travelers use its services in Cuba under a relatively limited US exception to a trade embargo. That limit has been lifted.