Obama to make historic visit to Cuba next month

WASHINGTON • US President Barack Obama said yesterday he will visit Cuba on March 21 and 22 and meet Cuban President Raul Castro, in the first US presidential trip to the country in nearly 90 years as relations between the former adversaries thaw.

"Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people," Mr Obama wrote in a post on Twitter.

The President, who will be accompanied by his wife Michelle, said that while the United States still has differences with Cuba, it has already made significant progress in normalising ties with its former Cold War foe.

The two countries restored diplomatic relations last July after a historic rapprochement between Mr Obama and Mr Castro in December 2014.

The Republican majority in Congress, however, has defied the US leader's call to rescind the trade embargo, so he has used his executive authority to relax trade and travel restrictions. "(Fourteen) months ago, I announced that we would begin normalising relations with Cuba - and we've already made significant progress," Mr Obama wrote.

He had said he would visit the neighbouring Communist-ruled nation if he were able to meet political dissidents on the trip.

Yesterday, he said: "We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world."

During the trip, Mr Obama will have the opportunity to meet Mr Castro, wrote Mr Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama's deputy national security adviser, in a separate blog post.

Officials on Wednesday had said the Cuba visit will be part of the US leader's broader trip to Latin America. The last and only sitting US President to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

US sanctions were imposed after Mr Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, moved towards revolutionary rule and then joined the Soviet bloc for decades.

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

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'Obama to make historic visit to Cuba next month'. Print Edition | Subscribe