Obama plans historic trip to Cuba to further ties

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday his history-making visit to Cuba next month was part of an effort to "improve the lives of the Cuban people.

See Full Article

He vowed 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.

The trip will make Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. In a series of tweets, Obama cast it as part of steady progression of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation 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.

"There is much more that can be done?--?by the United States, and by the Cuban government?--?to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is travelling to Cuba," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote Thursday in a post on Medium, a blogging website. "We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travellers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement."

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.

Word of his travel plans drew immediate resistance from opponents of warmer ties with Cuba -- including Republican presidential candidates.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father came to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s, said Obama shouldn't visit while the Castro family remains in power. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another child of Cuban immigrants, lambasted the president for visiting what he called an "anti-American communist dictatorship."

"Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever," Rubio said on CNN. Told of Obama's intention to visit, he added, "Probably not going to invite me."

With less than a year left in office, Obama has been eager to make rapid progress on restoring economic and diplomatic ties to cement warming relations with Cuba that his administration started. Following secret negotiations between their governments, Obama and Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties, and months later held the first face-to-face meeting between an American and Cuban president since 1958.

But Obama, facing steadfast opposition to normalized relations from Republicans and some Democrats, has been unable to deliver on the former Cold War foe's biggest request: the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo. Opponents argue that repealing those sanctions would reward a government still engaging in human rights abuses and stifling democratic aspirations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican born in Cuba, called the visit "absolutely shameful."

"For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime," said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. "Yet the country which grants them refuge -- the United States -- has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors."

Obama and supporters of the detente argue the decades-old embargo has failed to bring about desired change on the island 90 miles south of Florida. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, White House officials had said the visit wouldn't occur unless and until the conditions were right.

"If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody" -- including political dissidents, Obama told Yahoo News in December. "I've made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba."

Officials didn't immediately specify what had changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip, first reported by ABC News. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier to unfettered travel that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations.

Hundreds of thousands more Americans are expected to visit Cuba per year under the deal, which cleared the way for the Transportation Department to open bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 flights a day. Currently, there are about one-fifth as many flights operating between the two countries -- all charters.

According to the State Department historian's office, President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay and its naval base on the southeast end of the island in 1948 and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office in January 1981. Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to that city.

14 months ago, I announced that we would begin normalizing relations with Cuba - and we've already made significant progress.

— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016

Our flag flies over our Embassy in Havana once again. More Americans are traveling to Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years.

— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016

We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world.

— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016

Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.

— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016


Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Nearly 50,000 people flee area surrounding Bali volcano

    World News CTV News
    BALI, Indonesia - Nearly 50,000 people have fled the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, fearing an imminent eruption as dozens of tremors rattle the surrounding region, officials said Monday. Waskita Sutadewa, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency in Bali, said people have scattered to all corners of the island and some have crossed to the neighbouring island of Lombok. Source
  • Trump replaces travel ban with new restrictions

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation imposing strict new restrictions on travellers from a handful of countries, including five that were covered by his expiring travel ban. Administration officials say the new measures are required to keep the nation safe. Source
  • Highway of Tears walk to wrap up in B.C., ahead of MMIW inquiry

    Canada News CTV News
    SMITHERS, B.C. - A group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls will walk along the so-called Highway of Tears today into a small British Columbia community where a national inquiry is set to hold hearings. Source
  • Tennessee church shooting suspect charged with murder

    World News CTV News
    NASHVILLE - Witnesses and police described a chaotic scene as a masked attacker armed with two guns shot seven people, killing one, in a Tennessee church before he was subdued. The church pastor yelled for the congregants to run after the attacker came through the church silently shooting, according to a witness Sunday in a Nashville neighbourhood. Source
  • Myanmar police blame insurgents for the deaths of 28 Hindu women, boys

    World News CTV News
    YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar police said Monday that they have discovered at least 28 slain Hindu women and boys in two mass graves in the Southeast Asian country's conflict-torn northern Rakhine state. The government blames Muslim insurgents for the killings. Source
  • Merkel faces tough task to build Germany government

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is embarking on a complicated quest to form a new government and find answers to the rise of a nationalist, anti-migrant party. Sunday's election in Europe's biggest economy left Merkel's conservative Union bloc weakened after a campaign that focused squarely on Germany's leader of the past 12 years. Source
  • Iraqi Kurds head to polls for independence referendum

    World News CTV News
    IRBIL, Iraq - Polls have opened in Iraq's Kurdish-run provinces and disputed territories as Iraqi Kurds cast ballots in support for independence from Baghdad in a historic but non-binding vote. Millions are expected to vote on Monday across the three provinces that make up the Kurdish autonomous region, as well as residents in disputed territories - areas claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Source
  • Searchers dig as Mexico City reopens just 1% of schools after earthquake

    World News CBC News
    Search teams are still digging in dangerous piles of rubble hoping against the odds to find survivors at collapsed buildings, while officials say they have so far cleared only 103 of Mexico City's nearly 9,000 schools to reopen Monday. Source
  • Catholic church to investigate cases of children of priests

    World News CTV News
    VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis' committee of advisers on protecting children from sexually abusive priests is expanding its workload to include the needs and rights of children fathered by Roman Catholic priests. Committee members told The Associated Press on Sunday that a working group is looking into developing guidelines that can be used by dioceses around the world to ensure that children born to priests are adequately cared for. Source
  • Convicted Craigslist killer appeals death sentence

    World News CTV News
    AKRON, Ohio - A man convicted of killing three down-and-out men lured by bogus Craigslist job offers is appealing his death sentence to Ohio's highest court. The Akron Beacon Journal reports the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the appeal of 58-year-old Richard Beasley Tuesday morning. Source