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

  • Smiling Trump, grim Pope: Awkward photo mocked online

    World News CTV News
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis met for the first time at the Vatican on Wednesday. Trump appeared upbeat and smiling for the cameras throughout most of the 30-minute get-together that was also attended by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, as well his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Source
  • 6-year-old pricked by used needle while playing in local park

    Canada News CTV News
    A London, Ont. family is anxiously awaiting the results of medical tests after their six-year-old son pricked himself with a used needle while playing in a local park. On Monday night, Ocean Renouf and her son Nathaniel went to Constitution Park for some pre-dinner playtime. Source
  • Grieving 80-year-old widow victimized by cemetery purse snatcher

    World News Toronto Sun
    LAWRENCE, Mass. — Police in Massachusetts say a man snatched an 80-year-old woman’s purse as she was visiting her husband’s grave. Lawrence police say the widow placed her purse on the ground at St. Mary-Immaculate Conception Cemetery as she was cleaning the gravesite late Tuesday morning when a man came up behind her, grabbed the purse and ran away. Source
  • San Antonio police officer accused of punching 8th grade girl after video emerges on social media

    World News Toronto Sun
    SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Police Department is reviewing body camera footage after a bystander posted video online that appears to show an officer punching an eighth-grade girl three or four times outside of a birthday party last weekend. Source
  • Uncertain outlook keeps Bank of Canada firmly on the sidelines for now

    Canada News CBC News
    The Bank of Canada kept its benchmark interest rate steady on Wednesday, but signalled that could change once the weak U.S. economy starts to rebound as expected through the latter part of the year. Canada's central bank kept its target for the overnight rate steady at 0.5 per cent on Wednesday, the same level it's been at since the middle of 2015, because the economy isn't showing any signs of needing any more or any less stimulus. Source
  • Father of alleged Manchester bomber Salman Abedi declares son innocent: ‘We don’t believe in killing’ [Photos]

    World News Toronto Sun
    MANCHESTER, England — An apparent suicide bomber attacked an Ariana Grande concert as it ended Monday night, killing 22 people among a panicked crowd of young concertgoers, some still wearing the star’s trademark kitten ears and holding pink balloons as they fled. Source
  • Gay couple accuses Southwest Airlines of discrimination after being denied pre-boarding

    World News Toronto Sun
    NAPLES, Fla. — A Florida man says a Southwest Airlines employee refused to let him board a flight as a family with his husband, their three children and a grandparent. Grant Morse tells USA Today he was in the family boarding area at the gate at the Buffalo, New York, airport on Saturday when a gate agent told them the area is for family boarding. Source
  • 4 bodies found in tent at Mount Everest's highest camp

    World News CBC News
    Almost every year, the reports filter down from the highest mountain in the world, and talk among the climbing teams at Everest Base Camp turns to the latest person to die. On Everest, tragedy is almost normal. Source
  • 4 bodies found in Everest base camp tent

    World News CBC News
    Almost every year, the reports filter down from the highest mountain in the world, and talk among the climbing teams at Everest Base Camp turns to the latest person to die. On Everest, tragedy is almost normal. Source
  • Dog found beaten, buried alive in Quebec

    Canada News CTV News
    WARNING: Some readers may find details in the following story to be distressing A dog is in critical condition after it was found beaten, strangled, wrapped in a sheet and buried alive in a field east of Montreal. Source