HUFFINGTON POST

Cuban-American Photographer Shows What It Was Like To Cover Obama In Havana

It wasn't all glitz and glamour, but it was a dream come true, Chip Somodevilla said.
Cuban-American photographer Chip Somodevilla captured this image of Cuban security forces shuttling photographers, including
Cuban-American photographer Chip Somodevilla captured this image of Cuban security forces shuttling photographers, including White House official photographer Pete Souza, out of the room after a photo op during President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba. 

Behind-the-scenes photos show the stress and chaos involved in covering President Barack Obama's three-day trip to Cuba earlier this week, the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the island nation in 88 years.

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations last July, more than five decades after they cut diplomatic ties amid Cold War tensions in 1961. Obama's historic visit symbolized a new chapter in the countries' relationship, with Cuba's state-run media providing live updates and airing special coverage of the U.S. president's activities throughout the trip.

It was a particularly special experience for Chip Somodevilla, a U.S.-based photographer who traveled with the White House to cover the trip for Getty Images. Somodevilla's father grew up in Havana but fled to the U.S. as a refugee in late 1960, almost two years after Fidel Castro took control of the country, the photographer told The WorldPost.

Somodevilla was part of a group of journalists who traveled to Cuba with the White House to cover Obama's visit. This photo h
Somodevilla was part of a group of journalists who traveled to Cuba with the White House to cover Obama's visit. This photo he took shows a bus full of journalists, including Los Angeles Times White House reporter Christi Parsons, heading toward the plane to Cuba. 

While the March 2016 visit was the fourth time Somodevilla has traveled to Cuba, it was nonetheless a dream come true for him. 

"If you told me that I was going to travel with President Obama to Cuba, and that we [the U.S. and Cuba] would normalize diplomatic relations, three or four years ago, you might as well have told me I was going to photograph a unicorn," he said. "I just didn't think that was even going to be possible."

Journalists, including NBC news anchor Lester Holt, ride in a bus at José Martí International Airport upon thei
Journalists, including NBC news anchor Lester Holt, ride in a bus at José Martí International Airport upon their arrival in Cuba.
Passengers walk off the White House charter plane after landing at José Martí International Airport in Hav
Passengers walk off the White House charter plane after landing at José Martí International Airport in Havana a day before Obama's arrival.

Covering Obama didn't go as seamlessly as expected, however.

Havana wasn't used to accommodating such an influx of reporters and photographers, or having Cuban and American press liaisons and security forces all work together, Somodevilla said.

"All the time the schedule's kind of changing a little bit, what we could do, what we couldn't do, where we could go and where we couldn't go," he recalled. "All those were in flux at all times, and it made planning a little difficult."

"It was one of the most hectic trips I've ever had in my life," he added.

A Cuban security agent works with a member of the U.S. Secret Service at Havana's Estadio Latinoamericano, where Ca
A Cuban security agent works with a member of the U.S. Secret Service at Havana's Estadio Latinoamericano, where Castro and Obama watched a baseball game together.

But amid the chaos, Somodevilla was able to get a glimpse of how the two countries' leaders interacted. Castro warmed to Obama throughout his trip, Somodevilla said, despite a language barrier between them.

The two presidents "spent most of the time talking to translators," the photographer noted. "But even with that barrier, they still seemed very collegial and comfortable."

Even after Obama's speech at Havana's Gran Teatro, which appeared to challenge Cuba's communist regime, the two presidents appeared to be bonding at a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national team hours later.

The two presidents "sat next to each other at the baseball game, they joked, they razzed each other a little about how the other's baseball team was playing that day," Somodevilla said.

"The image that was put forward was of collegiality, of happiness -- and despite their differences, I believe that they do want to learn to get along."

A shot of photographer Chip Somodevilla in Cuba.
A shot of photographer Chip Somodevilla in Cuba.

Somodevilla shared the six previously unpublished photos above with HuffPost. See more of his photos from Cuba below.

  • People walk through the historic Old Havana neighborhood in Havana on March 20, 2016.
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    People walk through the historic Old Havana neighborhood in Havana on March 20, 2016.
  • Men play chess in a boarded-up doorway in Old Havana on March 20.
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Men play chess in a boarded-up doorway in Old Havana on March 20.
  • Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro review troops before meetings at the Palace of the Revolution on March 21.
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro review troops before meetings at the Palace of the Revolution on March 21.
  • Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, accompanied by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, speak with the help
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, accompanied by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, speak with the help of translators at the Palace of the Revolution. The two presidents mostly communicated through their translators, photographer Chip Somodevilla said.
  • Cuban President Raúl Castro acknowledges applause as he arrives at Havana's Gran Teatro on March 22.
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Cuban President Raúl Castro acknowledges applause as he arrives at Havana's Gran Teatro on March 22.
  • Barack Obama waves after delivering remarks at Havana's Gran Teatro.
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Barack Obama waves after delivering remarks at Havana's Gran Teatro.
  • Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro talk before the start of a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro talk before the start of a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national team at the Estado Latinoamericano on March 22.
  • President Barack Obama and his family react to the first run scored during the baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and C
    Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
    President Barack Obama and his family react to the first run scored during the baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national team.
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Historic Photos Show How Far U.S.-Cuba Relations Have Come
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