Obama arrives in Havana in historic boost to US-Cuba ties

The US president landed at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport Credit: Reuters

Barack Obama has arrived in Havana, the Cuban capital, at the start of an historic visit to the Caribbean country, long treated as a pariah by the US.

The US president landed at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport aboard Air Force One on Sunday, where he was met by Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Soon after landing he tweeted "Que bolá Cuba?", a slang expression meaning "What's up Cuba?".

The trip, which marks a new chapter in Washington's engagement with Cuba's Communist government, would have been all but unimaginable before a detente brokered in December 2014.

The historic visit makes Obama the first sitting American president to visitCuba since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a battleship in 1928.

Traveling with first lady Michelle Obama, her mother and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, the president will mostly take in the sights of Old Havana on his first night.

On Monday he is due to hold talks with Cuba's president Raul Castro - but not his brother, the revolutionary leader Fidel - and speak to entrepreneurs, while on Tuesday he will meet privately with dissidents, address Cubans live on state-run media and attends an exhibition baseball game.

Obama was met at Havana's international airport by by Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez Credit: Reuters

The Obama administration has chipped away at barriers to US-Cuba trade and eased travel restrictions.

A rapprochement between Washington and Havana in 2014 has seen the two sides restore diplomatic ties and signed commercial deals on telecommunications and scheduled airline service.

Major differences remain, notably the 54-year-old economic embargo of Cuba.

Obama has asked Congress to rescind it, but the move has been blocked by the Republican leadership.

Underscoring the ideological divide that persists, Cuban police, backed by hundreds of pro-government demonstrators, broke up the regular march of a leading dissident group, the Ladies in White, detaining about 50 people just hours before Obama was due to arrive.