President Obama to Make Historic Visit to Cuba Likely in March

President Obama, right, and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the United Nations Headquarters on Sept.  29, 2015, in New York City. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
President Obama, right, and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the United Nations Headquarters on Sept. 29, 2015, in New York City. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)

President Obama will crown his historic rapprochement with Cuba with a visit to the island as soon as March, the first for a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years, administration sources said Wednesday.

The White House will announce on Thursday the details of a multi-stop presidential trip to Latin America — including Cuba — in the coming weeks, said senior administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made. The trip was first reported by ABC News and Reuters.

The trip would be the culmination of 14 months of work to normalize relations between the two countries since Obama broke the diplomatic freeze between the two governments that had been maintained by 10 U.S. presidents in 2014.

Obama has made no secret about wanting to visit the communist island, but said in an interview last year that “conditions have to be right.” Those conditions included a visible change in the lives, liberties and economic possibilities of ordinary Cubans. “If we’re going backwards, then there’s not much reason for me to be there. I’m not interested in just validating the status quo,” he told Yahoo News.

Embassies have reopened in Washington and Havana. The Obama administration has published a series of rule changes to allow U.S. businesses to export products to Cuban entrepreneurs. The two sides reached an aviation agreement that will allow for regularly-scheduled commercial flights and U.S. cellular companies are providing roaming service on the island.

Yet the Cubans have not fully embraced the openings created by Obama.

Human rights organizations say political persecution remains an everyday occurrence on the island. In 2015, the first full year of the new relationship with Cuba, 8,616 Cubans deemed political prisoners were detained or arrested by the government, according to the Havana-based Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. That figure is only slightly lower than the 8,899 politically-motivated arrests in 2014.

Opponents of Obama’s Cuba opening say those arrests prove that Obama’s strategy has already failed. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both Cuban-Americans running for president, have said they’ve seen no change in Cuba’s repressive regime. Rubio has called the changes “one-sided concessions,” Cruz has called the opening an “unconditional surrender” and both have vowed to cut diplomatic ties if they’re elected.

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SOURCE: Alan Gomez and Gregory Korte
USA TODAY