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Cuba Welcomes President Obama for Historic Visit; Hillary Clinton Speaks to Pro-Israel Lobbying Group; New Suspect Named in Paris Terror Attacks; Obama Laying Wreath for Revolutionary Jose Martin; A New Era in U.S.-Cuba Relations; CNN Staffers Recall Three Decades of Coverage. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 21, 2016 - 10:00:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST (voice-over): You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Hello there. We're live in Havana where the President of the United

States is preparing to meet with his Cuban counterpart.


CURNOW: Hello, everyone, I'm Robyn Curnow in Havana. Welcome.

President Barack Obama is beginning his first full day on Cuban soil. It's windy, it's been raining but no doubt that is not a focus. It's more

about diplomacy after that very rainy evening, exploring Old Havana with his family.

Now his enthusiasm for the landmark event was evident as he spoke to embassy staff soon after his arrival.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship. It took him three days to get here. It

only took me three hours.


OBAMA: For the first time ever, Air Force One has landed in Cuba and this is our very first stop. So this is a historic visit. And it's a

historic opportunity to engage directly with the Cuban people.

CURNOW (voice-over): Historic opportunity indeed. But dozens of protesters from the Ladies in White, an opposition group, were arrested

during their weekly Sunday protest. Many Cubans hope Mr. Obama's visit will improve human rights on the island.


CURNOW: Also, though, it's going to be a busy news hour. We want to tell you about something else on our radar. We are waiting to hear from

prosecutors about last week's capture of a key suspect in the Paris terror attack. Now that's ahead.

First, though, let's talk more about the president's agenda for the day. Here with me in Havana is CNN correspondent Patrick Oppmann as well

as Cuban journalist Reinaldo Taladrid.

Hello, gentlemen. It has been a very exciting time and again, it's going to be an exciting day.

For you as a Cuban and a journalist, what do you make of all of this?

REINALDO TALADRID, CUBAN JOURNALIST: Well, in my case, it would be very, very special because I will have the honor to be the moderator of the

encounter of President Obama with Cuban entrepreneurs. So it will be very, very special in my case.

But for the Cubans, it's very special. When I came to CNN bureau in Havana, there's something very unusual. People notice the streets where

the caravan will be arriving into Revolution Square. And people spontaneously are on the streets, not organized, not standing by anybody.

I don't know.

You spent time in Havana, too. This is not an unusual thing. People are very respective of special events. But people are on the street


I think that maybe there are high hopes for some people that are not in correspondence with reality, what will happen for the daily life. In

Cuba, if you ask me, the main problem is economy, the economy and the economy.

And the guy who deal with economy will get directly to the minds of the Cuban. So maybe some people have expectation that life will improve

overnight but it's not going to happen. Everybody know that.

CURNOW: It's not going to happen. And I think there is a sense of pragmatism and acceptance that this is going to be slow. In fact, the

Cuban regime, the Castros certainly don't want this to roll out of their control, in many ways. Change is coming. Obama says.


CURNOW: And it has come already. He acknowledges that Mr. Castro knows change is coming but even Mr. Obama is saying this is certainly not

going to be fast.

OPPMANN: Last night after a long day that we all had, I went home and there was a Cuban friend who wanted to talk about today's events. And I

said what he expected to hear from the president, what do you expect the classic line like Ronald Reagan, tear down this wall.

And he said we have enough things that have been torn down here. We need to build. We need a partner to build a new future. And so I don't

think it should be about the past. It should be about the future. That's what Cubans that I know and have had the pleasure to become friends with

over the years. That's what they want to hear from the president today and tomorrow.

And of course we'll see what comes out of such as the President Raul Castro is how he can connect, get around the image that's been projected

all these years of the United States is the enemy. And he really wants to connect with the Cuban people. And of course that's not always easy to do.

CURNOW: And I know just a little bit out of our eyesight here, just overlooking also, if you stand on the Havana bureau and look out, there's a

cruise ship that's docked here in front of the Malecon. And Patrick was saying this is about dollar diplomacy. It's about cruise ship diplomacy.

This is how change is going to take place in many ways.


CURNOW: It's not about wagging your finger and demanding political change.

TALADRID: Breaking news for CNN.


TALADRID: Last night I spent in a dinner enough time with the CEO of Carnival cruise line. At 11:30 am this morning they are going to sign with

Cuba full agreement with Cuba.

CURNOW: Oh, so you're giving us the scoop, are you?


TALADRID: Coming to Cuba, it's breaking news for you guys.

CURNOW: Here we go, thank you.

TALADRID: But in the case of Cuba, Patrick is a nice person. You need to think that this country, just less than 10 years ago Cubans can't

have a cell phone legally, can't enter in a hotel, can't travel with other (INAUDIBLE) government.

Then it's the same old story.

Is the glass half full or half empty?

For the Cubans, if you ask me, it's half full. Maybe for you, it's half empty. I understand.

But both sides need to understand that. The changes will not happen overnight. I remember in the '70s and in the '80s when you thought in Cuba

it was mandatory that you story (INAUDIBLE) an historic materials (ph). So in that Soviet mammoth (ph) they teach you that the economic base condition

the political super structure of any society.

So when you hear Obama and his people say we need to be patient, patient, patient, they are being a little bit matches (ph). Because if you

change first the infrastructure of a society, the economic base, of course, there will be changes above. There will be changes in the political

structure of any society. It's impossible that this is not happening. (INAUDIBLE) term limits in Cuba -- I'm sorry, you don't have idea. In this

country, to say to any analytic (ph) you only have two terms of five years, that were --


OPPMANN: -- any term limits. And Raul Castro has said, as you know, this is the last chance to get this right. He'll leave power in two years.

And when he says this, we're talking about the revolution. And he says it's not about going too slowly. It's about going too fast.

And some people don't feel it's gone fast enough. For people who remember 10 years ago, when there were no cell phones, when you couldn't

sell houses, when you couldn't travel --

CURNOW: But with this in mind, I mean, historical materialism aside and whether there's some sort of connection, I mean that is one person's


But when we talk about movement, many critics, particularly many Cuban Americans are watching this and saying, listen, Americans have gone a mile.

The Cubans haven't moved an inch here. And that it seems like it is, in many ways, a betrayal.

Is there still a deep sense of distrust with the Castro government?

TALADRID: Robyn, I want to put another piece in this complicated puzzle.

All -- everybody repeat moral (INAUDIBLE). But from the other side, (INAUDIBLE), what about the freedom, the travel freedom rights that the

Americans have in the Constitution. Is it right or is a quid pro quo negotiating?

What about the free trade? The most few free trade, what about putting conditions to the trade?

Is this connected with the original spirit of the free trade? Are they use Chamber of Commerce, a right-wing organization, defend?

And then why everything need to be quid pro quo?

Why not normal everything, normalization in every field and let's see what happens?

CURNOW: It's about incremental change in the long game. That's what the administration has been saying.

We're going to keep on talking to you guys. Thank you so much. Lots to discuss.

Meantime, we're also going to keep an eye on another story we're following here at CNN. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary

Clinton is speaking to the pro-Israel lobbying group APAC in Washington. Let's just listen in.


[10:08:52 to 10:17:09]

CURNOW: You're listening there to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, taking not such a veiled reference at Mr. Trump, the Republican

candidate, who has said that he would be a, quote, "neutral guy" on the issue of Israel.

Hillary Clinton coming out there very forcefully, saying America cannot be neutral about Israel's security; also referencing Mr. Trump's

candidacy and comments when he says that he is a good negotiator.

She also said that some things are just not negotiable. She got a round of applause and we will keep an ear on that speech.

In the meantime, we're going to continue with other news here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. As you can see, we're live in Havana. It's been

exciting times here. There are other stories that we're following, including why investigators want to talk to this man, a new suspect in the

Paris terror attack.

Stay with us. Lots ahead.





CURNOW: Hi, there, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow, live in Havana. We are keeping an eye on President Obama's

schedule for the day. But we also have other news.

Belgium says it's searching for another suspect in last year's Paris terror attacks. Authorities there are looking for this man, Najim

Laachraoui, who they say traveled to Hungary with captured Paris suspect Saleh Abdeslam last September.

We've just received this video of the Friday raid that netted Abdeslam in Brussels last week. We're waiting to hear more from prosecutors on his

capture shortly; 130 people were killed in the attacks in Paris last November.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is in Brussels and joins us now with the latest in this investigation.

Hi, there, Nima. We're expecting to hear from both the Paris and Brussels prosecutors today.

What more do you think they are going to say?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, all eyes are on that French extradition request. Especially many of the families of the victims, those

caught up in the attacks, have been speaking out. There's a real sense of urgency in this French request, a hope that finally one of those men

involved in the attack, indeed, the last surviving attacker, could see justice in a Paris court.

But before all that, the Belgians want to glean as much as they can. And already they are learning some very crucial detail, specifically the

real identity of a man they have now identified as Najim Laachraoui, who you were referencing.

He was known to prosecutors but only by his alias of Soufiane Kayal. He's believed to be a key conspirator. In fact, counterterror officials

told CNN back in January that they'd intercepted phone conversations between him and the Paris ringleader, Abaaoud, in which he's appeared to be

giving instructions to Abaaoud.

The urgency of course that's driving all this is, investigators believe, that there is a new network that Saleh Abdeslam built around

himself in those weeks and months on the run and that it is a network that was amassing weaponry and that could still strike here in Belgium -- Robyn.

CURNOW: And what about warnings from Interpol, real concerns about Europe's border security here?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely, some real, real concerns coming out of Interpol there, the Belgium foreign minister has himself reinforced those concerns,

saying that they believe that there is a possibility that Syrian fighters, Syrian jihadis could be on their way into Europe, possibly as part of that

broader network and broader attack plan that Saleh Abdeslam was involved with.

So Interpol is cautioning all of Europe to maintain hypervigilance at their borders and really try and ensure not only that nobody is getting in

but that nobody that could be key to this investigation could be trying to escape and could succeed in getting out.

CURNOW: Nima Elbagir there in Brussels.

Of course, we are waiting to hear what will be said in that press conference and we will bring it you live when we do.

We're also waiting for a final verdict in Russia for a Ukrainian combat pilot accused of killing two Russian journalists. Russia says Nadya

Savchenko, seen here in this picture, killed two journalists in Eastern Ukraine in June of 2014.

Savchenko says she was kidnapped and didn't kill anyone.

Well, improved U.S.-Cuba ties have some people seeking opportunity. Coming up, We speak to two prominent Cuban Americans. They say they

supported the U.S. embargo but today are ready to do business with Havana.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CURNOW: We want to take you straight to Brussels, where French and Belgian prosecutors are holding a news conference right now on the capture

of Paris attack suspect Saleh Abdeslam. Let's listen in.

FREDERIC VAN LEEUW, BELGIAN PROSECUTOR (through translator): Relations were primordial, the sense the Paris attacks were often met in

Brussels or Paris and three days following the horrors of the 13th of November, we met with the Spanish authorities and Moroccan authorities.

During the meeting today together while perceptive teams, we have clarified the situation and the great developments the last few days as you

know with the arrest Mr. Abdeslam and his accomplices we know that the inquiry is not over.

And as you can later see with the press communique of the federal department, there are other individuals who've got to be found who'll have

to explain themselves. And thus there's a lot of work from the huge work carried out by all our teams on both sides of the border and his sincerely

express all my condolences, all the victims of this terrible drama.

Francois, I give you the floor.

FRANCOIS MOLINS, PARIS PROSECUTOR (through translator): Thank you, Frederic.

First of all, I'd like to emphasize the quality of the advance and our work by the Belgian instructing judge and the quality of the work from the

instructing judge, together with all those involved in the specialized act terrorist unit of Brussels.

As I emphasized, I agree with my colleague, Frederic Van Leeuw, about the quality of the contacts that exist today and which are not recent that

are old to go back a long time between the federal prosecutor and me but also between our two teams at the anti-terrorist section of Paris.

The quality of the international cooperation, which is essential in order to fight against terrorism and to succeed in these inquiries, the

legal cooperation between France and Belgium is very rich. It goes through a certain number of vexes what we call in our jargon international criminal

cooperation or criminal codes, the madiminutie (ph) dossier, the Belvier (ph) file and the file of the attacks of the 13th of November. And 13

mandates of the penal code are in action.

This also leads to regular meetings, regular meetings, structural and to do with the events and the attacks the 13th of November. We have had

direct contacts during the night that followed the attacks. And from the 14th of November we decided to carry out requests for international arrest


These have continued, as I said, either in a bilateral framework. Today we're in Brussels to share in detail all the information about the

development of these attacks.

We meet at least twice a year in a structured way and in a multilateral framework also because we both belong to a quadripartite

group, Spain, Morocco, Belgium, with these three different groups.

I would like to emphasize this bilateral relationship between Belgium and France, as face a certain number of factors which are essential. The

first one is mutual respect, loyalty, secondly, and concern to have an efficient and effective response against terrorism. Thus, we work together



MOLINS (through translator): -- in the Belvier file and the individuals who were arrested in the freduce (ph) tunnel. This efficiency

has left France and Belgium always thanks to European arrests once two arrest, manibeduce (ph) at the -- following the attacks of the -- in the

Jewish museum in Brussels, although -- and he was French.

All this illustrates very well the quality of the relationships and the work which has been carried out in this framework and which makes it

possible to have efficient, effective inquiries on which we are working today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Thank you, Francois.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As I would like to ask if you could ask one question.


QUESTION: (Speaking French).


MOLINS (through translator): We know that the French instructing judge this kind of European mandate has been issued by the public

prosecutor's office.

CURNOW: OK. We have been listening there to the prosecutors from France and Brussels, wrapping up their conversations and information about

Abdeslam. Now I want to take you, though, to events that are happening here in Havana. We're seeing these historic pictures in Havana.

U.S. President Barack Obama is at the historic Revolution Square. He will lay a wreath at the Jose Martin Memorial. It is a massive marble

statue of the revolutionary poet. You're hearing now the band, the pomp and ceremony, a Cuban flag flying in the wind. And it is certainly windy

here in Havana today.

Now Martin is considered a national hero. He's revered as a symbol of Cuban independence.

And here is the image of an American president, standing erect and tall, paying respect to that.

Mr. Obama's visit to the plaza is incredibly symbolic. It was once the site of Fidel Castro's famed and long speeches.

And again we're listening now, the symbolism very, very deep, the American national anthem being played here on Cuban soil.

Well, I'm joined by two guests, Mike Fernandez and Carlos Gutierrez.

Both of you are Cuban Americans. Both of you are very successful businessmen.

As you see these images, what does it make you feel?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, FORMER U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: It makes me hopeful for the future. This is a great symbolic trip. I know some people, say,

well, it's just symbolism.

My goodness, this is big symbolism. And I think it gives the Cuban people hope, more importantly than what it does for me. I think for the 11

million people on the island, it gives them hope and that's the important thing and that's what's at stake here, is the future, not the past.

MIKE FERNANDEZ, CHILDREN, MBF HEALTH CARE PARTNERS: I think it's also very important to notice that the number of Cuban Americans that have

traveled during this event is significant. These are Cuban Americans who want to contribute to the future of Cuba.


FERNANDEZ: -- yes, absolutely. And we want a better Cuba. I think we have acquired certain knowledge, certain information over our lifetime

in exile that we can help this country move forward and this country is moving forward.

The fact that the president is here, the fact that there are 500,000 private businesses in Cuba employing up to 30 percent of the population is

significant. We want to contribute. We're not the enemy anymore.

CURNOW: You used to be vociferously -- very vociferous against the Castros. You worked very hard in many ways to end this government. But

you changed your mind.


CURNOW: Why and how?

GUTIERREZ: It's not an epiphany. It's not a lightning bolt that hits you one day and you say I've changed your mind. I have been thinking about

this all my life. You cannot be a Cuban exile and not think about Cuba every single day of your life. So I've been thinking about this for a long


After a while --


GUTIERREZ: -- of course I was.

CURNOW: -- thinking?

GUTIERREZ: -- after a while, no, but you have to think because after a while you realize that the talking points are there.

But what does your heart say?

What does your gut say?

And the talking --


GUTIERREZ: -- points we're getting more and more difficult to justify in my gut. I had them here memorized.

But at some point you say, wait a minute, does this make sense?

How does that add up?

And it doesn't.

CURNOW: So what you're saying -- I mean, you worked within the Bush administration. You were very active in that. You're saying you were


GUTIERREZ: No, look, there's a time for everything. OK? And I think part of strategy and wisdom and foresight is recognizing what time it is.

Maybe 30, 40 years ago that was the right thing. Maybe we had to.

But at some point, you know, things change. Something -- it's hard for something to be right for 58 years. So I'm not -- let's not talk about

who was right, who was wrong; we are here, this is the moment and we should support the Cuban people. Look, the Cuban government is opening up with or

without the U.S.



CURNOW: And as you say that, let's listen in. This is history playing out before us.

OBAMA: (INAUDIBLE). I think they want to take a picture with the delegates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

CURNOW: OK. What we saw there was President Barack Obama laying a wreath in front of the statue of Jose Martin. Most visiting dignitaries do

that here in Cuba.

For you also, Mike, tell us your personal story and what does it mean to you personally being here and being actively part of this?

FERNANDEZ: I have been -- I was born in a small town in Cuba. I come from a very poor family. My father was a sandwich maker.

And I have been through the process of leaving my country, being forced to leave my country Christmas Eve, 1964. It was a painful exile but

one where, today, I have spent 52 years in the U.S. and 12, my first 12 years in Cuba.

When I go through town and I look at the towns that I see and I see this empty store shelves and I see mothers and children and grandparents

there, they are going through an issue that is created by an embargo that was imposed by us.

This is a country, our country, that pushes for freedom, markets, free markets, free enterprise, everywhere except here. And the people that are

in government, in senior position, they don't suffer that. It is the little people that suffer that.

And we have to think about the joy and the excitement that we felt when we received our visas to leave this country, to go to the U.S. We

have to give these people the same level of excitement, the joy of giving them a future. Right now, they are beginning to see the future and we're

going to help expedite that for them.

CURNOW: And so you two, as you can see, there's quite a press pack foaming around the president. The images are just priceless in many ways.

Here he is walking in Revolution Square.

For you, also, Carlos, your personal story, when did you leave here?

GUTIERREZ: I left in 1960 and I came back for the opening of the embassy.

CURNOW: How old were you when you left and how traumatic was it for you?

GUTIERREZ: Well, 6 years old. We weren't sure if we were going on a vacation. It's hard to comprehend exactly what's going on. But you never

forget it. It becomes a defining moment of your life.

So I came back for the opening of the embassy. I didn't know if I would feel sad, mad, paranoid.

I felt joy. I felt happy to be back in the land of my birth and my parents' birth and my ancestors. And so it's been an amazing

transformation for me. I feel totally liberated. I feel I am exactly right and my gut is telling me this is the right thing to do for both

countries and for the Cuban people.

Just one more thing. A lot of discussion about human rights and what are we doing here.

Was it only about making money and business?

And the right to do business, the right to make a living is one of our most cherished of human rights. That's the right that many Cubans are

receiving today. We should support that. Because we have that right in the U.S.; we talk about human rights. They are getting that right here.

We should be behind it. And I agree with what --


GUTIERREZ: -- Mike Fernandez said. The Cuban American community should be behind this.

CURNOW: We know that President Barack Obama is going to be meeting with Raul Castro, having bilateral meetings, and this is going to be going

there pretty soon.

How strong, how vociferous is he going to be about the issue of human rights, civil liberties, in that conversation?

FERNANDEZ: I think he's a believer of those rights. But that's what the U.S. stands for.

CURNOW: But how much is he going to push it?

FERNANDEZ: Well, you have to ask him after he has the conversation. I cannot read his mind.

But in numerous of our meetings with the staff and with the president himself, that is a number one issue for them. Also economic rights.

Economic rights do deliver and maybe the first set or all the other rights (INAUDIBLE). But if you give someone the choice of 100 TV stations to

watch, five different international newspapers to read or the right to feed your family, they will all vote for the last one.

That's where it has to begin. Let's not ignore whatever else needs to be improved but we need to empower the people to be able to move ahead.

And when you're empowered, you create a different society.

CURNOW: Thank you so much, Mike Fernandez --



CURNOW: -- thank you very, very much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robyn, thank you.

CURNOW: You're in Havana. It is a historic day. As you can see, we have been having some fascinating conversations with our guests here.

There's still a lot more to come from Cuba. More on the president's landmark visit and of course we're live.




CURNOW: The wind here in Havana, what you're seeing the Jose Martin statue, where President Barack Obama has just laid a wreath.

Well, I'm Robyn Curnow. And we will continue to cover the U.S. president's historic trip. But in the meantime, I want to bring in a man

called James Williams. He's standing here with me.

And you are the president of Engage Cuba.

What exactly is that?

JAMES WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT, ENGAGE CUBA: Well, thank you first for having me. Engage Cuba is the leading umbrella coalition, a private sector

company of trade associations and nonprofit groups working to lift the embargo in the United States.

CURNOW: OK. And so how -- is this all very much part of a huge lobby to try and get Congress to change its mind?

How are you going to do that?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. So it's both major Fortune 500 companies as well as advocacy groups, special interest groups from Cuban American

organizations to Latino organizations to think tanks, who all think, for various reasons, from right to left, from business to human rights that the

policy needs to change.

So we're working both at the states, going into home districts and talking about the benefits to each individual state and district of why

this needs to change but also the broader --


WILLIAMS: -- regional and national interests for --


CURNOW: OK. So it sounds good and it's obviously a lot of politics at work here.

How optimistic are you that you're actually going to make a dent in a Congress that really hasn't been very flexible?

WILLIAMS: Actually, we're really optimistic because if you looked at what happened on December 17, 2014, when the President Obama and Castro

made these announcements to where we are today, we now have close to 50 senators on the bill to lift the travel ban in the United States Congress

and the Senate.

We have over 30 Republicans on a Cuba bill in the House. And we have locked in virtually every Democrat in both bodies outside of Senator

Menendez and one or two others.

So we actually have made tremendous progress and we actually think this could be the year, particularly around the travel ban, that we make

real progress there as well.

CURNOW: In terms of the entire embargo, how does that get repealed?

I spoke to the Commerce Secretary yesterday and she said, listen, it's not going to happen overnight and I tried to push her on a timeframe. She

also couldn't give that.

I mean, can you --


WILLIAMS: We're talking about a body that can't even agree to keep the lights on so there's a lot of dysfunction generally. And I think Cuba

is just one piece of that.

I think at the end of the day, it's probably going to happen piecemeal. I think travel will happen first. There's a bill around

helping agricultural exports, which will probably happen in a similar timeframe and then the embargo will probably happen second after that.

And so I think this trip, depending on how it goes, could be a real shot in the arm to the timeline of how quickly this moves. And I think

people won't feel the full ramifications of this trip until it's -- after it's over.

CURNOW: And that's why the entourage, the delegations that have accompanied this president, are as perhaps much as important as these

powerful images that we have been seeing of the president in Cuba.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. This is a big part of it. You look at the president's foreign policy, some of his legacy issues around the world and

this opinion of the Republican Party, you look at Iran, some of these other things and you compare that to where things are in Cuba, it really is --

this is one of the most popular issues in the United States. You're talking about 80 percent of the American people supporting this.

So the more -- we feel strongly that the more people talk about it, the more people are paying attention, the more likely we are to move it

faster. There's no way to move it any quicker and draw more attention than the President of the United States being here in Cuba.

CURNOW: So what is the delegation that you're traveling with and the people that you're speaking to?

What is the one main issue that they think really needs to go when you're talking about piecemeal and you're talking about (INAUDIBLE) the

embargo, besides travel, what is it?

WILLIAMS: I think it's broadly, on the U.S. side, it's opening up commerce much more openly so we can have a better free exchange of ideas.

I think one thing that's clear and this is why I love this issue because we don't have to debate the hypotheticals. We have had 55 years of one policy

where it just hasn't worked. We know there's failure.

So we don't have to debate. Should we keep the embargo, should we not?

We know objectively something has to change. And so I think everyone here is seeing the power of commerce, the power of people, the people of

engagement as being at least our best hope for a change in the policy moving forward and hopefully a change for a better future for Cuba. And

that's really at the end of the day what's most important.

CURNOW: James Williams from Engage Cuba, thank you very much for joining me here.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

CURNOW: You're watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Havana. And the Cuban national baseball team will play and host a Major U.S. League

club tomorrow in a historic game. It's one of the highlights of President Obama's trip.

Many of Cuba's best players have defected to the U.S. play. One of those is Tampa Bay player Dayron Varona. He was able to reunite with his

family in Havana last night three years after he risked his life to leave.

One woman here in Havana was a step ahead of everyone else in welcoming the president to Cuba. She's been writing him letters and he's

written back.





CURNOW: We're live here in Havana, Cuba, I'm Robyn Curnow. Thank you so much for joining me.

As international relations build between the U.S. and Cuba, so do some personal relationships. Mail service between Cuba and the United States

resumed last week and one woman here received her special letter. Take a look at this.


CURNOW (voice-over): A quiet corner with her own piece of history. This Cuban grandmother holds a letter from American President Barack Obama,

one of the first pieces of mail to make it directly from the U.S. to Cuba in half a century. The White House released this photo of the president

signing it in the Oval Office.

ILEANA YARZA, CUBAN CITIZEN: To think I would be expecting a letter in that mail and from the president himself, oh, my God. Not in my dreams


CURNOW (voice-over): Ileana Yarza says she's written to Obama five times, offering him coffee at her home.

Finally, he replied.

YARZA: "Dear Ileana, I'm looking forward to visiting Havana to foster the relationship and highlight our shared values and hopefully I will have

time to enjoy a cup of Cuban coffee."

CURNOW (voice-over): Even the envelope is weighted with symbolism. Official White House correspondent delivered to an address that, when

translated, means "revolution square."

For many Cubans like Yarza, this letter and the president's trip is seen as a long-awaited acknowledgment that U.S. policy for the past 50

years was a mistake.

YARZA: I can die now in peace because I heard in my lifetime an American president say that the embargo did not work.

CURNOW (voice-over): Slowly, changes are coming, perhaps not as fast as both governments would like but still welcomed. At this Havana post

office, letters sent to the United States had to be routed via a third country but now the direct service delivery will take about two weeks, say

the postal workers here. After the visit Yarza wants to write back. She knows what she'll say.

YARZA: "Thank you, sir, for writing me back such a beautiful letter. Thank you for coming to Cuba."

CURNOW (voice-over): A thank you and a standing offer to still come over for a cup of Cuban coffee.


CURNOW: Well, I don't know if he has the time. We're seeing images on Cuban state television that President Obama is now walking and talking

with Cuban officials. He's about to go and perhaps have a Cuban coffee with Raul Castro, bilateral meeting is scheduled in the next few hours.

Now of course CNN has been taking viewers inside Cuba for more than three decades, from the Mariel boat lift to Fidel Castro stepping down.

Our staff members share what it's been like to cover a country that's been at odds with Washington since 1959.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Let's face it. I mean, Cuba is a beautiful country. Beautiful beaches, sunsets and the (INAUDIBLE) and the

people. People make Cuba a gorgeous country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During my trips there, it was decided we wanted a bureau. So I was made the point person for a CNN bureau in Havana. It

took about seven years to do.

One of the more interesting moments was during the Cuban rafting (ph) crisis and Janet Reno was the attorney general here in the U.S. And she

kept saying the crisis is over, the crisis is over.

And I'm on the beach in Cuba and dozens of Cubans are just continuing to pour into the sea. So we'd report the crisis is not over and our own

people wouldn't believe us. So you'd have to take the camera and show them, here they come with their rafts jumping into the ocean. It made us

realize the importance of being there just so people could see the whole picture of what was going on between the U.S. and Cuba.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been covering the Miami Cuban story for all this time. And I've heard everything from the Miami Cuban (INAUDIBLE)

community. And it was my first time actually going into Cuba to see what it was actually like, what they had left, what they had fled from.

It was like it -- the clock stopped in 1959. The Cold War had been over for years but yet everybody was still living like the Cold War was

going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One day we went with Ted Turner, which was a while ago, when he was going to interview Fidel Castro. And we got incredible

access to the Cuban leader. We rode around Havana all day one day in jeeps. The jeeps kept breaking down and we had to --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- jump out of one jeep and jump into another. And after a while we all just said, boy, if they can't even drive their

leader around, maybe this isn't a place we should be scared of.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I always remember Fidel's speeches, hours and hours, long hours of his speech in the Cuban summer sun. In one

of them, Fidel facing to the United States, I mean, just 90 miles away, saying to President Bush, "Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The biggest story that happened while I was there really happened shortly after I got there.

I was the producer for the CNN Havana bureau. The correspondent was out of town. This was July 31st, 2006.

And we got news there was going to be a big announcement on state TV.


DARLINGTON (voice-over): Well, we turned the TV on and Fidel Castro's personal secretary showed up and read this proclamation that Fidel Castro

was going into emergency surgery and handing power over. This was a huge bombshell. Nobody had expected it. He had been in power for nearly 50


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): So change is happening rapidly. And I think it's going to explode as we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): What the changes have happened since the opening of relations, the people always want to talk to you. They want

to know when are things going to change? When are things going to get better for me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): At the end, I guess the main word is "rewarding." It was a rewarding experience to be involved in that, to have

a little part of doing something that maybe opened the doors a little bit. And now maybe they are opening a little bit more.



CURNOW: And as you heard our staffers talking about the past history that today, being made, look at that. Images of Raul Castro and President

Barack Obama shaking hands in the Palace of the Revolution, essentially Raul Castro's office.

We saw President Obama walk up a red carpet into this massive building, very imposing building in Havana. Inside, you see a guard of

honor is lined up. He then walked through and very casually, in fact, met with Raul Castro.

This appears to be the first time they have met since President Barack Obama landed on Cuban soil last night. He wasn't met at the airport by

Raul Castro. That wasn't a snub, say the Americans. That's because this is precisely the image they wanted of an American president coming to the

office of the Cuban president.

They are now going to get down to business. They are going to talk about a number of issues in their bilateral meeting.

We've been hearing from many people in that delegation that have accompanied President Obama, a large delegation, I must say, of

congressmen, of senators, of business people. He's brought along a lot of people because this is about commerce and about opening up commercial


But also many people expecting him and wanting him to pose some tough and hard questions to Raul Castro about civil liberties, about human rights

here in Cuba. So no doubt it will be a frank conversation but also an optimistic conversation because this is, of course, the first time an

American president has visited Cuba in 88 years.

I'm Robyn Curnow in Havana. Thank you so much for joining me. CNN continues.