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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

By Patricia Zengerle and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will visit Cuba in the coming weeks, a senior administration official said on Wednesday, making a historic trip in the final year of his presidency that will mark a turning point in U.S. relations with a long-time Cold War foe.

The White House plans to announce the visit on Thursday. The Cuba stop will be part of a broader trip to Latin America.

The visit to Havana by Obama would cap what administration officials see as one of his legacy foreign policy achievements: normalizing relations with Cuba and taking steps toward expanded commercial relations after a 54-year freeze.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shocked the world in December 2014 by announcing the former adversaries would move to normalize relations.

The Republican majority in Congress has defied Obama’s call to rescind the five-decade-old embargo, so he has used his executive authority to relax trade and travel restrictions.

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of Cuban immigrants, have been sharply critical of his opening to Cuba in the absence of political change there.

A visit by Obama to Havana in late March would correspond with the finalization of a peace deal for Colombia that was encouraged and sponsored by Castro.

The Colombian government and the FARC rebel group are expected to finalize a peace deal by March 23 in Havana that would end a 50-year civil war in the South American nation.

Obama said in a December interview with Yahoo News that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016 but only if enough progress had been made in bilateral relations and he was able to meet political dissidents as part of an effort to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

A Cuban foreign ministry official said in reaction to the December interview that Obama was welcome to visit Cuba but not meddle in its internal affairs.

It was not immediately clear what detailed arrangements would be made for the trip or how diplomats from the two nations proposed to bridge that divide as part of the plans.

Washington and Havana restored diplomatic ties in July but commerce remains limited by the U.S. trade embargo, which includes a ban on American tourism to the island.

On Tuesday, American and Cuban officials signed an arrangement to restore scheduled air services between the two countries after half a century.

Rubio wasted no time in criticizing the reported plans for the trip. Asked at a CNN town hall event in South Carolina whether he would visit Cuba, Rubio replied: “Not if it’s not a free Cuba.”

At the same event, Cruz also criticized Obama’s move, saying he would not go to Cuba “as long as the Castros are in power.”

“What Obama has shown to our enemies is weakness and appeasement,” Cruz said, lumping together Obama’s steps toward improving U.S. relations with Cuba and Iran.

“I think it’s a real mistake. I think the president instead ought to be pushing for a free Cuba,” he said. Instead, he will go and “essentially act as an apologist.”

The last and only sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Jeff Mason in Washington; Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki, Matt Spetalnick; and Steve Holland; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for a news conference at the close of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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3 responses to “Obama To Make Historic Trip To Cuba In Coming Weeks, Official Says”

  1. kingartie1 says:

    What Cruz has shown to his political rivals and fellow citizens is ignorance and delusion. Not to mention a very casual relationship with facts and veracity. Did I misread, or does he also collect the endorsements of ultra far righters who believe Jews and gays should be exterminated? Very nice thoughts from a dude who has been at least indirectly mollycoddled by Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to go to Cuba until the Castros are turned out and the people are free? Well, guess what, I doubt they care in the least. And if this charlatan really wants to defend freedom, one of the first matters he should pledge is to keep his sticky f#$%^&*g hands off my health care. But it’s irrelevant anyway. He’ll never be in the Oval Office. He is, though, giving election watchers in other countries a real show of just how lowly some Americans think of themselves by giving Mr. Carpet Bomber their attention.

  2. bobnstuff says:

    The embargo hasn’t removed Castro. It’s time to do something different. It’s because the US is them most powerful nation on the planet that the President can make this trip. It shows that we fear no country. It’s because of the respect other world leaders that he can go anywhere and talk to any leader he wants and they will work with him. Even with seven years of being undermined by the republicans he is still the leader of the free world. Cruz wants us to believe that we are a second class nation and only he can bring us back, Trump believes the same thing. They seem to over look the fact that we have the strongest free economy in the world and the strongest military. As a country we are second place to no one. Yes we have problems as a nation but not the ones Cruz believes we have. One last thing, Eduardo Refael Cruz is as much a Cuban citizen as he is an American citizen. Maybe he should run for President of Cuba.

  3. jiro tanaka says:

    The Cubans are becoming irrelevant.what a way to go Mr. President, you make your country very proud of you. The hateful Christian conservatives can say whatever they want, your presidency is full of accomplishment . Bravo

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