The view from Obama's armoured Cadillac, nicknamed "the Beast," would have been a long way from the postcard vision of sun-splashed Cuban mansions and sparkling blue seafront.

Drizzle -- the first rain to fall for weeks – started almost at the same time Air Force One touched down yesterday at the start of a landmark trip to end a decades-long US-Cuban standoff.

By the time Obama and his family reached central Havana, the drizzle was a downpour and the city's streets were eerily empty. Where the foul weather didn't dissuade sightseers, the communist state's security services finished the job.

Swarms of police -- plainclothes but easily recognisable with their athletic builds and hard stares -- occupied street corners through the historic Old Town, long ahead of Obama's arrival there for the first stop of his three-day visit.

Many streets were barred altogether and large buildings in the area were put under lockdown, while security agents watched from rooftops.

The Malecon, the iconic seawall running along the front of Havana, would usually be crammed with families, lovers and musicians on a sunny weekend day.

But the rainswept wall, which might have been the perfect viewing point to witness Obama's convoy travelling to the Old Town, was forlorn and deserted.

Of the people standing even close to the Old Town area that Obama would visit, nearly all were police or foreign tourists. Cubans were in distant third place. About 20 people huddled under a bus stop just outside the closed security zone. Two were Cubans.

Latest News from World News Desk