By Jordan Fabian - 03/22/16 02:30 PM EDT
Obama attends Cuban baseball game
President Obama attended an exhibition baseball game in Havana on Tuesday, an act of sports diplomacy meant to highlight the cultural ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
Obama went ahead with his plan to attend the game despite calls from Republicans to cut his Cuba trip short due to Tuesday morning’s terror attacks in Belgium.
During an in-game interview with ESPN, the president indicated he didn’t consider skipping the game.
“It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, especially in this world of 24/7 news coverage,” he said. "You want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation. But the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”
Obama said one of the proudest moments of his presidency was Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz's fiery, profanity-laced speech at Fenway Park in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing.
“Probably the only time America didn’t have a problem” with curse words on live TV, Obama joked.
“That is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists," he said. "They cannot defeat America.”
Obama also said the U.S. would continue to go after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for the violence.
“This is just one more example of why the entire world has to unite against these terrorists," he said. "The notion that any political agenda would justify the killing of innocent people like this is ... is beyond the pale."
The president and first family entered Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano just before 2 p.m. to a standing ovation from the invitation-only crowd of around 50,000.
Obama took a seat next to Cuban President Raúl Castro in the front row behind home plate.
The two leaders stood and bowed their heads for a minute's silence to honor the victims of the attacks in Brussels, which left at least 34 people dead.
Tuesday afternoon’s game between Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team has been one of the most-anticipated events of Obama’s historic two-day visit to the communist island nation.
The president and the Cubans are hoping the baseball game could help break down economic barriers between the two nations.
Rather than place direct pressure on Cuba to open up its political system, Obama is betting that closer economic and cultural ties will spur the Castro government to adopt reforms.
MLB is in talks with U.S. and Cuban officials to allow Cuban players to sign directly with American pro teams. Currently, Cubans have to defect from the island to play in the majors.
Obama was accompanied by Rachel Robinson, the widow of the player who broke MLB’s color barrier, Jackie Robinson, who attended spring training in Cuba with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The president, first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaKendrick Lamar, Janelle Monáe to celebrate July Fourth at White House Michelle Obama: World's young girls 'hungry to learn' Obama Foundation names architects for presidential library MORE and Castro joined the energetic Cuban crowd in The Wave before the first pitch was thrown.
Cuban players came over to the home plate area to salute Castro after they were introduced. Rays players then lined up to shake hands with Obama.
“Way to represent,” Obama told one of the Tampa players.
Rays outfielder Dayron Varona, the first-ever player to defect and return to play in Cuba, led off the game. He popped out to second on the first pitch.
Republicans pilloried Obama for his decision to attend the game. Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump meets with Gov. Mike Pence amid VP speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report Trump hires Florida chief strategist, new pollster MORE (Texas), a 2016 presidential candidate, said Obama should be heading back to the U.S. or to Brussels.
"President Obama is spending his time going to baseball games with the Castros,” Cruz said, according to ABC News.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama delivered a speech to the Cuban people, in which he condemned the attacks, and met with dissidents and civil society members.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump meets with Gov. Mike Pence amid VP speculation Dem immigration platform courts Hispanics Dem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings MORE said Obama looked “ridiculous” speaking in Cuba while the situation in Brussels unfolded.
--This report was updated at 3:18 p.m.