WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he will make an historic visit to Cuba in March, the first by a serving U.S. president in 88 years, with the aim of expanding upon the achievements of the bilateral normalization of relations and urging improvements in Cuba’s human rights record.
Obama will visit Cuba March 21-22 and he and first lady Michelle Obama will then visit Argentina from March 23-24, the White House said in a statement.
“Next month, I’ll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people,” Obama said in a Twitter post.
The president said the process of normalizing bilateral relations is continuing even though there are still “differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement that this Cuban trip is “another demonstration of the president’s commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations and connect U.S. and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information.”
He added that Obama will meet with members of civil society, businessmen and other Cuban citizens.
Meanwhile, in a post on Medium, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes noted the bilateral progress made since Obama took office, although he said there is more work to be done in human rights.
“As the President has said, Cuba will not change overnight, nor will all of the various differences between our countries go away,” Rhodes wrote. “But the guiding principle of our Cuba policy ... remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people.”
He added at a press conference that the president will meet with dissidents, members of civil society and those who oppose the policy of the Castro brothers.
Rhodes also said specifically that Obama will not meet with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, although the White House had announced earlier that he would meet with his Cuban counterpart, Fidel’s brother Raul.
Obama’s visit to the island will be the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge visited the island in January 1928. In 1948, Harry Truman visited Guantanamo Bay and its naval base, Cuban territory controlled by the United States, and Jimmy Carter has traveled to Cuba on several occasions, but never as president.
This week, Washington and Havana signed an historic accord on civil aviation that will allow the resumption of direct commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.
Meanwhile, Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca is presently in Washington seeking investment and has asked Obama to take further executive action to relax restrictions linked to the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1962.