In 2015, trade between China and Cuba increased by 57 percent, reaching some US$1.6 billion according to Beijing officials, while in past months direct flights began to operate between Beijing and Havana.

Obama's visit starting Sunday marks a crowning moment for his ambitious diplomatic experiment with Cuba.

Joined by his family, Obama will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Castro in his presidential offices - images unimaginable just a few years ago.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who has been deeply involved in the administration's Cuba policy shift, said Obama is looking forward to a frank discussion with Castro about ways the two nations can work together, but also about what differences remain after decades of isolation. It thus maintained trade ties, a steady supply of Cuban stogies and ready access to Caribbean beaches unspoiled by ugly Americans. Cuba's government, though hungry for foreign investment, has not eagerly embraced the idea of political change. The two countries reopened their embassies past year. There will be a state dinner. Rodriguez said Cubans would be able to draw their own conclusions from Obama's speech. The White House published the letter Thursday but Yarza said she was waiting to open it until relatives arrived to watch. Cuba - the people of Cuba are going to demand change. Presently, the American rules state a player has to defect to the United States before he can sign a contract and be paid by a US team.

AFP has published the photo featuring the poster of Presidents Obama and Castro in central Havana yesterday, characterizing the photo as "a revolutionary change to the portraits of Che Guevara and other communist leader plastered around Cuba".

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If I was Rafa, I'd be thinking they are winnable". "We need four wins from the last eight, so it's now must-win rather than draw". The main thing is to do the job and take the three points because that will give everyone a good feeling.

"It doesn't worry me", Fundora said.

'If I had the opportunity to see him I would say "I admire you, I respect you, and I think you've done something very important, " ', she added.

White House officials have downplayed concerns that such antagonistic comments poison the climate for Obama's visit or indicate Cuba is unready to truly normalize relations. Obama's trip should help inspire this budding relationship and strengthen ties between Cuba and its Florida neighbors 90 miles to the north. He hopes a successful trip will make that impossible, even if a Republican is elected in November.

Raul cuts a distinctly different figure to charismatic Fidel, but historians say their partnership is what has got Cuba through so many challenges - whether the USA economic embargo or the devastating collapse of all-important Soviet support at the end of the 1980s.

Information for this article was contributed by Alicia A. Caldwell of The Associated Press.