By Ryan Velez
According to an Al Jazeera America report, President Barack Obama is currently planning a visit to Cuba this March, which would make him the first sitting president to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. This visit, which has yet to be officially announced, would be part of a larger trip through Latin America, and comes on the heels of previous efforts by Obama to try and restore a relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
During his administration, Obama has made several efforts to try and further diplomatic and economic negotiations with Cuba, culminating in a face-to-face meeting between himself and Cuban president Raul Castro in April of 2015. While White House officials have mentioned that visiting Cuba has been of interest to Obama for quite some time, they added that such a visit would only take place under certain conditions. In an interview with Yahoo News in December, President Obama stated,
” If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody…I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”
Obama and supporters of this meeting have expressed the opinion that the long-held economic embargo of Cuba has not brought about the changes desired in the island nation. This is met by criticism that ending said embargo serves as a reward to a government with a history of civil rights abuses and suppression of dissidents.
Many of those individuals in government against furthering relations with Cuba have also made statements on this potential trip. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) remarked that Obama should not visit Cuba while the Castro family holds power. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) held similar views, stating, “Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever.” Sen. Rubio also described the government of Cuba as an ” anti-American communist dictatorship.”
Both supporters and detractors of President Obama will note this visit as yet another landmark in his administration’s continued approach to lower hostility with long-time enemies of the United States, especially in his final term. On Tuesday, February 16, Cuba and the U.S. signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic between the two nations potentially as early as later this year. This move would allow Cuban-Americans to visit family members they haven’t seen in years. Obama also lifted economic sanctions against Iran last month, a move that many are optimistic will ease tensions between the two countries.