US president Barack Obama to make historic trip to Cuba

February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — US president President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Cuba next month, a trip that will make him the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. 

 

Obama his history-making visit to Cuba will be part of an effort to "improve the lives of the Cuban people and vows to press the communist government on human rights and other policy differences.

"We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world," Obama wrote, as he announced the history-making visit on Twitter.

Cuba, a communist nation, as been estranged from the U.S. for over half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved toward rapprochement more than a year ago.

Since then, the nations have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, eased travel restrictions and barriers for business and have moved to restore commercial air travel. A presidential trip was held out as significant leverage in these talks.

 "We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement," said US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

Rhodes noted the ultimate aim is to persuade Congress to lift the trade embargo — an unlikely possibility in the near term.

In addition to meeting with Castro, Obama will interact with members of Cuban "civil society," the White House said, referring to activists that advocate for various social causes.

Prior to announcing the trip, Obama had said one of the conditions for a presidential visit would be the ability for him to speak to all kinds of groups — including those that oppose the Castro government.

Obama's stop in Cuba will be part of a broader trip to Latin America that the president will take next month. From Cuba, Obama will travel to Argentina, where he'll meet with the new president.

 

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