US President Barack Obama met with US embassy employees in Havana and took a walking tour of historic old Havana after arriving Sunday in Cuba to start a three-day visit that culminates a process of a rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

Air Force One touched down at 4:18 pm (2018 GMT) in Havana, and before Obama got off the plane he sent a message on Twitter.

"Que bolá Cuba?" (What's up, Cuba?) Obama said on Twitter. "Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people."

He and his family then travel from the airport into the city, where he addressed embassy staff.

"Having a US embassy means we're more effectively able to advance our values, our interests and understand more effectively" the Cuban people's concerns, he said, adding this visit is "only a very first step" in the new relationship with Cuba.

Because of rainy weather Obama addressed the US diplomats not at the embassy but at the Melia Habana Hotel.

"This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity," the US president said. "Back in 1928, President Coolidge came on a battleship; it took him three days to get here. It only took me three hours," Obama added, referring to the only other sitting US president who has ever visited Cuba.

He and his family later arrived at Havana Cathedral to large crowds that began cheering as his motorcade reached the square. He paused to shake some hands and waved several times as he made his way to the door of the white stone cathedral, where he was to meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The trip comes in the final year of Obama's eight years in office and with his hopes that it will be one of the crowning achievements of his foreign policy.

Obama is expected to be feted during his stay in the Caribbean island nation. But just prior to his arrival there was a reminder of the human rights situation there - one of the main sticking points to a further reduction in tensions - when dozens of dissidents were arrested, several opposition figures told dpa.

"There is a climate of political repression in connection with the visit of President Obama," Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the banned Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said.

Decades of hostility between neighbours on opposite sides of the political spectrum have dissipated since Obama and Raul Castro announced their agreement in late 2014 to end what effectively had become a stalemate in relations dating back to the dawn of the Cold War.

Diplomatic ties were restored in July, and little by little other hindrances to cooperation have been dropped. Last week the United States loosened some travel restrictions on Cuba, including allowing US citizens to visit the country for "people-to-people" educational trips, and eased restrictions on banking services.

Direct postal service also recently restarted, eliminating the need for letters and parcels to be sent via third countries.

Obama's stay will include a meeting with Raul Castro, but not with his older brother, Fidel, the 89-year-old revolutionary, who ruled the communist island for decades after the revolution and consistently express hostility toward the US, which implemented an embargo against Cuba in 1961.

Raul Castro has called for the complete lifting of a trade embargo and a return of Guantanamo Bay, a US military base on the eastern tip of Cuba under US control since 1903.

Meanwhile, his brother sent his own message on Sunday when a photo of him speaking with Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro was published on the cover of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde. He has previously expressed scepticism over the approach his brother has taken toward the US.

Related stories

Obama says he will visit Cuba in March

Fidel Castro blasts Obama's Cuba visit

Trump vows to undo Obama's opening toward Cuba

First US cruise ship in decades docks in Cuba

Fidel Castro - leader of Cuba's revolution - dies aged 90

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.