Obama to make ‘historic’ Cuba visit

‘What will be interesting to see is if the president meets with Cuban internal opposition,’ says one observer

President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama will travel to Cuba and Argentina in March, according to White House.

The “historic” visit will be the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years.

While on the island hold a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro and engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life, according to a White House.

This visit “is another demonstration of the president’s commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations and connect U.S. and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information,” it added.

Obama took to Twitter to signal his trip.

“Significant progress” has been made during the normalizing relations with Cuba, he said, but the two countries still had “differences” that he will “raise directly” during his visit. “America will always stand for human rights around the world,” he said.

Washington and Havana restored diplomatic ties last July by re-opening embassies in each other’s capitals.

And both nations formally agreed to reestablish regular air travel for the first time in more than 50 years.

A senior advocate at the Latin American Working group focused on trying to end the American trade embargo against Cuba, told Anadolu Agency that Obama’s visit would be “another step in the process towards normalization” and that it would “advance” further changes.

“What will be interesting is to see if the president meets with Cuban internal opposition and how much the Cubans would disapprove that,” said Mavis Anderson.

Obama said last year that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016 but only if enough progress was made in bilateral relations, he was able to meet with political dissidents and if he could possibly “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction”.

Before the official announcement, Republican lawmakers criticized news of the visit, saying it should not take place while the Castro family is in power.

Republican presidential candidates Sens, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — both sons of Cuban migrants — said the visit was a mistake.

During a town hall-type discussion on national television, Rubio asked Wednesday night whether he would go to Cuba if he were president.

His response was curt. “Not if it’s not a free Cuba,” said the senator from Florida where resides the largest Cuban population in the U.S.

Cruz said Obama would be acting “as an apologist” and would allow “billions of dollars to go to tyrants who hate America”.

After his stop in Cuba, Obama will go on to Argentina where he will meet with that country’s new President Mauricio Macri.

Obama will deepen efforts to increase cooperation between U.S. and Argentina “in a range of areas, including trade and investment, renewable energy and climate change, and citizen security”.

It has been nearly two decades since the last bilaterally-focused visit by a U.S. president to Argentina, Latin America’s third largest country.

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