Nutter family vacations in Cuba at same time as Obamas

Even on vacation, Michael Nutter can't escape the political circus.

The former Philadelphia mayor and his wife, Lisa, were in Cuba visiting their daughter this week at the same time that President Barack Obama and his family visited the island nation on a historic diplomatic, and apparently recreational, mission.

The timing was mere coincidence, Nutter said in an interview Wednesday evening as he waited on a layover at Miami International Airport. The Nutters, he added, planned their vacation first.

“It wasn’t related. We planned our trip four months ago,” Nutter said, noting that their daughter Olivia, a junior at Columbia University, enrolled in a semester abroad there. “Once we found out she was going down there, we wanted to go.”

The Obamas made history with their 48-hour visit. It was the first time since 1928 that a sitting U.S. president has visited the country. Obama arrived Sunday night and left Tuesday for Argentina.

If Nutter’s tweets while touring Havana were any indication, he and his family made some history of their own after arriving last Friday.

Among the greatest pleasures, he said, was watching his daughter converse in Spanish with the locals. The Nutters also watched the Tampa Bay Rays, a Major League Baseball team, play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team. Obama and numerous members of Congress also took in the ballgame Tuesday afternoon. Obama sat with Cuba President Raul Castro.

“It was incredible. It was quite emotional,” Nutter said of the atmosphere inside the ballpark called Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. “Nothing like that ever happened. You had the two national anthems, two sitting presidents. There was a moment of silence related to Brussels.”

He said the Cuban people were very excited to see the United States commander-in-chief.

“There is very, very positive feelings by many of the Cuban people and real hope for the future,” he said. “Cuba has its own challenges. But seeing the cars and hearing the music and the culture, it was an incredible experience.”

The trip for the Nutters also was an official visit on behalf of a bicycle company headquartered in Philadelphia. Lisa Nutter took four Fuji bicycles with her to Cuba to give to the country’s national cycling team.

Lisa Nutter is a competitive racer and an ambassador for Fuji, one of several cycling brands owned by Northeast Philadelphia-based Advanced Sports International. Michael Nutter said they were lucky enough to meet with some of the Cuban cyclists, and Lisa Nutter even rode a few laps with members at the team’s velodrome.

Nutter said he and Obama didn’t have a chance to exchange pleasantries during their overlapping time in Havana.

“It was really kind of hectic,” he said. “We really wanted to spend a lot of time with Olivia.”

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