History delayed our flight back from Cuba. BB&N students watched through the terminal windows in Havana as Air Force One touched down on Cuban soil. When they came to a stop in a remote corner of the airport, President Obama and 40 Congressional Representatives set foot on Cuban soil to embrace a warming of relations.

Obama is the first sitting United States President to visit the island nation since Calvin Coolidge 88 years ago. A lot has happened since then.

The Vatican spearheaded the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Pope Francis, who visited Havana last September, facilitated talks between the formerly belligerent neighbors, proving instrumental in initiating normalization. President Obama, in the final year of his second term in office, is not campaigning for reelection. Without fear of backlash from Cuban voters who fled from Cuba to Florida as political dissidents in 1958, the timing for a change in this failed policy of isolation was perfect.

Because Cuba is such a close neighbor to the United States, huge potential for increased trade and cultural exchange exists. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the source of most of Cuba’s economic support for decades, the Cuban economy has declined and suffered. Would we really like to see Cuba embrace a close and expanded relationship with China just off the Coast of Florida?

Geopolitically, a friendship between the neighboring nations benefits both parties. Cubans stand to benefit from a wealth of cheap, high quality products until now unavailable to them under the embargo, while American corporations gain access to new markets. Everyone wins.

BB&N students caught a glimpse of daily Cuban life that defied expectations. Whether visiting with schoolchildren, staying with host families, or attending baseball games with locals, one thing is certain … Cubans are very friendly and proud people, but the animosity between the two nations doesn’t carry over into the everyday people. Strip away the decades of complicated politics, and the citizens of Cuba sincerely respect and trust Americans. Governments should “get out of the way,” as the saying goes.

When President Obama spoke in Cuba, he may have irritated the government with his talk of open government. Although he highlighted problems in Cuba’s political traditions, he emphasized that an open dialogue between our people was integral to move forward as friends and partners.

When President Obama mentioned that one important way for information to be shared freely was to open up Internet access to all Cubans, he received enthusiastic applause.  The biggest cheers he received occurred after stating that he is requesting an end to economic sanctions between the United States and Cuba.  He was speaking directly to the Cuban people to join the modern, capitalist, US-centric west.

As time flows forward and the current politicians fade away, a younger generation of Americans will welcome a new neighbor. Moreover, President Obama’s visit to Cuba and his thoughtful speech to its people will be remembered for years to come. Although a senile Fidel Castro criticized President Obama’s speech, the genie is out of the bottle now. Last week the Rolling Stones performed in Havana, but Barack Obama drew a larger crowd. The Cuban people are ready for change. “¡Si se puede!”