Obama to raise human rights during historic trip to Cuba

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday he'll raise human rights issues and other U.S. concerns with Cuban President Raul Castro during a history-making visit to the communist island nation.

See Full Article

The brief visit in mid-March will mark a watershed moment in relations between the U.S. and Cuba, making Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. While in the country, Obama plans to meet with groups advocating for change in Cuba, a condition the president had laid out publicly for such a trip.

"We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly," Obama wrote on Twitter in announcing the visit. "America will always stand for human rights around the world."

Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, on a visit to Washington, told The Associated Press that Obama's visit is good news for Cuba.

"The president will be welcomed," he said in Spanish.

The U.S. was estranged from the communist nation estranged 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 and have moved to restore commercial air travel, with a presidential visit seen as a key next step toward bridging the divide.

Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the president will carry the message that the U.S. and Cuba need not be defined by their "complicated and difficult history." He said the U.S. wants to expand opportunities for U.S. businesses in Cuba, facilitate travel for Americans and coax Cuba's government into passing those benefits on to the public.

"Cuba will not change overnight," Rhodes wrote in a Medium blog post. But he said the guiding principle behind the visit is "taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people."

Rhodes noted the ultimate aim is to persuade Congress to lift the trade embargo -- Havana's biggest request of the U.S. Although short-term prospects have seemed unlikely, a Republican congressman just back from leading a delegation of lawmakers to Cuba said he believed legislation ending the embargo could pass Congress by the end of the year.

"The momentum is growing," said Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota.

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 he'd only travel to Cuba if he could speak to all kinds of groups -- including those that oppose the Castro government.

From Cuba, Obama will travel to Argentina, where he'll meet with new President Mauricio Macri, the White House said.

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."

"Probably not going to invite me," Rubio said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican born in Cuba, called the visit "absolutely shameful." But Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who travelled to Havana with Secretary of State John Kerry last year for the U.S. Embassy's re-opening, cheered the announcement.

"For Cubans accustomed to watching their government sputter down the last mile of socialism in a '57 Chevy, imagine what they'll think when they see Air Force One," Flake said.

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 begun by his administration. 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.

Officials didn't immediately specify what changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations. A day earlier, the Obama administration approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. property.

The last sitting president to visit Havana was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Harry Truman travelled in 1948 to the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay and its naval base on the island's southeast end.

Associated Press writers Kathleen Hennessey and Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington and Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

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

  • Cautious welcome from congressional Republicans to Trump era

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans anxiously monitor President Donald Trump's Twitter feed, parse his pronouncements, and brace for potential controversy each time he gives an interview. But GOP lawmakers also say they're growing increasingly accustomed to expecting the unexpected from Trump, and they're learning to take his abrupt pivots in stride, even when what he says stirs divisions or casts doubt on key Republican goals. Source
  • Analysis: Trump promises big change, picks small fights

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump won the White House promising big changes to the nation's economy, health care system and foreign policy. He spent his first full day in office picking small fights. Trump turned what was intended to be a bridge-building visit to the CIA on Saturday into a media-bashing session centered on what he saw as low-ball reports about the crowd size on Inauguration Day. Source
  • Emboldened by Trump's presidency, Israel approves more construction in the settlements

    World News CBC News
    The municipality of Jerusalem granted final approval Sunday for the construction of hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem, while a hard-line cabinet minister pushed the government to annex a major West Bank settlement as emboldened Israeli nationalists welcomed the presidency of Donald Trump. Source
  • In midst of Aleppo wreckage, a Syrian family returns home

    World News CTV News
    ALEPPO, Syria -- The street looks as if it was hit by an earthquake and the bombed-out building in a former rebel-held northeastern neighbourhood of Aleppo is deserted -- except for the second-floor apartment where Abdul-Hamid Khatib and his family are staying. Source
  • Mystery outbreak sickens approximately 200 students at Ont. college

    Canada News CTV News
    Toronto Public Health says the number of people who have fallen ill by a mysterious outbreak at a Toronto college has risen to about 200. Health officials say Sunday that they are investigating what is causing the outbreak at Humber College. Source
  • Quebec ticket claims $25 million Lotto 6/49 jackpot

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    TORONTO — Quebec has another big lottery winner. The $25 million jackpot in Saturday night’s Lotto 649 draw was claimed by ticket purchased somewhere in the province. And the draw’s guaranteed $1 million prize also went to a ticket holder in Quebec. Source
  • Alberta union says deal includes right to domestic violence leave

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- A union in Alberta has negotiated domestic violence leave for members who work at a long-term care facility. The United Steelworkers says the agreement means Rivercrest Care Centre workers who are victims of domestic violence can take paid leave for legal, medical and counselling appointments without fear of losing their jobs. Source
  • Unsettled Montreal Mob leadership means arson and reprisals to continue: experts

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- A spate of recent Montreal-area arsons linked to organized crime suggests the battle for Mafia leadership in Quebec remains fractured, experts say. What is likely, they say, is the era that saw charismatic peacemaker Vito Rizzuto rule for three decades will be replaced by something altogether different. Source
  • Failed nuclear missile test off Florida? U.K. won't say

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- Britain's prime minister refused to say Sunday whether she knew about an unarmed missile that reportedly failed when it was test-fired off the coast of Florida last year. Theresa May told BBC she has total confidence in Britain's Trident nuclear deterrence system, but didn't confirm or deny a newspaper report about the alleged failure of a ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads. Source
  • 'Hero professor' saved lives despite son, daughter dying in fiery bus crash

    World News Toronto Sun
    BUDAPEST, Hungary — It could take days to officially identify the 16 people killed when a bus carrying Hungarian students returning from a ski trip crashed in Italy and burst into flames, Hungary’s foreign minister said Sunday. Source