Tag Archives: Obama

UN ENCUENTRO CON BARACK OBAMA

Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2016, 14yMedio

Original article: Encuentro

Miriam Celaya’s account of Obama’s meeting with independent analysts, journalists, and activists.

Seguramente, este martes 22 de marzo de 2016 resultó una jornada memorable para los 13 representantes de una parte de la sociedad civil independiente que tuvimos la oportunidad de reunirnos con el presidente Barack Obama en la embajada de EE UU en La Habana.

Durante los días anteriores, se nos había invitado a participar en una reunión “de alto nivel”, en el marco de la visita del presidente estadounidense a la Isla, y ya en la propia embajada se confirmó lo que todos esperábamos: Obama se encontraría con nosotros a puertas cerradas, lejos de los micrófonos y cámaras de la prensa, que solo estuvo presente para una sesión de fotografías, instantes antes de que comenzara el intercambio off the record entre el presidente y los invitados cubanos.

Estuvieron presentes también otros altos funcionarios estadounidenses, que no intervinieron en el diálogo entre Obama y los activistas y periodistas independientes cubanos.

A lo largo de una hora y 40 minutos se produjo el encuentro, donde todos los invitados tuvimos la ocasión de expresar criterios diversos sobre cuestiones relacionadas con la nueva política de diálogo y acercamiento entre el Gobierno de EE UU y Cuba, así como de sugerir de qué manera consideran algunos activistas que esta nueva relación podría favorecer de una forma más eficaz el avance en materia de empoderamiento de los cubanos y consolidación de la sociedad civil.

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama desde diciembre de 2014. Sin embargo –y desmintiendo lo que pregona el discurso gubernamental en sus campañas difamatorias contra la disidencia interna–, ninguno de los activistas solicitó algún tipo de financiamiento ni apoyo material para su proyecto.

Obama, por su parte, hizo gala de buen talante, inteligencia, sensibilidad y capacidad para escuchar a todos, a pesar de que varios activistas se extendieron en sus presentaciones, lo que limitó la posibilidad de intercambiar más con el mandatario estadounidense, como deseaban muchos de nosotros. No obstante, las intervenciones de éste, en su estilo franco y utilizando su habitual lenguaje directo y alejado de grandilocuencias innecesarias, constituyeron una verdadera lección de política que no dejó lugar a dudas sobre su seguridad en estar transitando el camino correcto.

Esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas

Obviamente, siempre queda mucho por decir en este tipo de encuentros, pero de cualquier manera esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener –como ha sido tradición y práctica política hasta hoy– un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas. Esta postura no contradice la importancia de continuar el actual diálogo oficial con las autoridades cubanas y deberían imitarla los gobiernos y funcionarios de todas las sociedades democráticas del mundo, siempre dispuestos a ignorar a la disidencia y a negar el papel que le corresponde en el proceso de cambios que ha comenzado a operarse en Cuba.

Obama honró a los activistas de la sociedad civil independiente al dedicarnos una parte generosa de su tiempo en su breve paso por la Isla y mostró un respeto absoluto por los cubanos, por nuestra soberanía y por los proyectos de los luchadores pro-democracia. Una idea suya resume lo esencial de su política: el futuro de Cuba y la construcción de la sociedad democrática corresponden solamente a los cubanos de la Isla y de la diáspora.

En lo personal, este encuentro con Obama me dejó grabada la impresión del hombre sencillo que es, de su inteligencia extraordinaria y de su conocimiento de la historia de Cuba y de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países. Un hombre grande, cuyo nombre quedará definitivamente relacionado con el proceso de transición cubana, tal como lo conocerán las futuras generaciones de hijos de esta Isla.

z1Miriam Celaya and Barack Obama

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S SPEECH TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE IN HAVANA CUBA MARCH 22, 2016

President Obama’s speech to the Cuban People, on YouTube. March 22, 2016

An impressive speech of  historical significance for Cuba, the United States and Latin America; one of the best of Obama’s many excellent speeches.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

OBAMA’S WAVE AND TANGO TRUMP TERRORISM

Brookings Institution, March 25, 2016

By: Ted Piccone

Original Article: Obama’s Wave

As President Obama finally buried the last remnants of the Cold War” in Havana, jihadi terrorists were unleashing suicide attacks against innocent civilians in the heart of Europe. What a powerful reminder that the old wars against communism are long behind us, replaced now by a much more insidious and unpredictable form of warfare, one that strikes terror in the hearts and minds of citizens, whether near or far removed from the latest carnage.

This fear of the undetected radical in our midst is easy fodder for the overheated U.S. elections season. Leading candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump fell over themselves to demand Obama’s return to Washington to “keep us safe,” as if our sprawling national security apparatus shuts down when Air Force One is out of town. Fortunately, the White House is long accustomed to walking and chewing gum at the same time.

The real battle here is over symbols—of tough talk and bluster, on the one hand, and resilience and “steady hands” on the other, as candidate Hillary Clinton put it in her speech at Stanford University.

Electoral posturing aside, there is a more serious message that our leaders are trying to convey when they react to another terrorist attack. “It’s very important for us not to respond with fear,” Obama said when asked why he did not abandon his historic trip to Cuba in light of Tuesday’s bombings. In addition to deploying drones, detectives and deadly strikes against these terrorist groups, he remarked, we need to demonstrate determination to maintain “our values of liberty and openness and the respect of all people.

This is precisely the message Obama conveyed during his visit to our former enemy, Cuba, and our intermittent friend, Argentina. His remarkable speech to the Cuban people, visits with human rights defenders and entrepreneurs, and friendly gestures—such as doing the wave at a baseball game in Cuba and dancing the tango in Argentina—were powerful instruments to win over hearts and minds, not only in Cuba but around the world, about American intentions and values.

It is this kind of comprehensive package of economic, political and security measures that can turn the tide against violent extremism.

Latin America should know. Its history is replete with internal conflicts driven by the despair of the deprived against the despotism of dictators and corrupt elites. The overlay of Cold War power struggles between the Soviet Union and the United States further fueled the flames of violence.

Now, after decades of conflict, military rule and abject poverty, Latin America is an emerging region of economic growth and democratic stability. Colombia is close to settling the hemisphere’s longest armed conflict. Even socialist Cuba, which is struggling to enter the 21st century as neither friend nor foe of the United States, understands its future depends on a more open economy and better ties with all of its neighbors. Under the more pragmatic leadership of Raul Castro, it has abandoned the role of renegade in world affairs, renounced any support to international terrorism and pledged cooperation on law enforcement and anti-trafficking. It also has largely succeeded in delivering basic social services to its citizens, including free health care and education, while failing to protect fundamental political rights. In this latter area, it has some catching up to do with its neighbors.

Meanwhile, the radicalization of disaffected youth in the Middle East is occurring in countries long known for their hardline authoritarian rule, suppression of women’s rights, silencing of free media, and coddling of religious fanaticism. The silent majority of Arab citizens, who long for greater freedoms and democracy, are once again marginalized as extremists battle over which armed group will wield the power of the state. Might they have something to learn from the story of democratization in Latin America, where radical terrorism is largely contained and citizens take their complaints peacefully to the voting booths or the streets?

This history explains why so much is at stake in how the United States responds to perceived attacks against its way of life. Do we choose the path of surveilling Muslim communities, as Cruz suggests, or barring Muslims from our borders, as Trump avows? This, some say, is precisely what our enemies want, so they may recruit more disaffected followers to their diabolical cause. Or do we have the confidence in our own values of open competition of ideas, freedom of religion and rule of law to offer the world an alternative model for achieving both peace and security? Much depends on the outcome of our own democratic choices this November.

This piece was originally published by TIME.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

ARTÍCULO DE FIDEL, “EL HERMANO OBAMA”

No necesitamos que el imperio nos regale nada. Nuestros esfuerzos serán legales y pacíficos, porque es nuestro compromiso con la paz y la fraternidad de todos los seres humanos que vivimos en este planeta

28 de marzo de 2016

Granma 30 de marzo de 2016

Articulo original y completo: ARTÍCULO DE FIDEL

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: OBAMA MAY INVOKE CUBAN EXILES IN HAVANA

By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald, March 11, 2016.

Original here: Obama May Invoke…..

Expect President Barack Obama to invoke the ingenuity and success of Cuban-American exiles in his address later this month in Havana, a key White House aide said in Miami on Friday during a listening tour ahead of the president’s historic three-day trip to Cuba.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said there’s no agreement yet on whether state-run Cuban radio will broadcast Obama’s speech in Cuba, a first by an American president since the 1959 revolution. But Rhodes, a sometimes speechwriter for the president, said he has a role in the address, which is being influenced by his talks with South Floridians.

 “I’ve been struck by how much that speech is a focus for people,” said Rhodes, who spent the day in downtown Miami, mostly on the Miami Dade College campus, inviting input and trying to assure anxious or angry exiles ahead of the president’s March 20-22 visit to Havana.

He held a succession of meetings, many closed, with students, activists, journalists and religious and community leaders, where he reminded them that the White House goal isn’t to topple the Castro government but to open up society through renewed diplomatic relations, trade and other ties.

Of the speech, he said, “There has not been an opportunity for an American president to stand in Cuba, in Havana, and speak to the Cuban people, and to speak to the Cuban people in Cuba and in the United States. We feel that weight.”

So he laid out several themes to expect in the speech, from “some reckoning with history” to “the history and example of the Cuban-American people and the success they have had here in Miami and across the country.”

The two sides have not yet settled on a site for the speech. Rhodes, however, predicted the venue would be indoors, citing logistics and security reasons, and setting to rest the possibility that he would follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis’ September visit. The pontiff did his open-air Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución — with a huge portrait of Che Guevara staring down.

“I think he’ll want to speak to a very complicated history that kind of led us to where we are today,” said Rhodes. “How do we find ourselves at this moment. Some of that history is a powerful and positive shared experience. But some of it is a very painful and complicated and contentious experience.”

In one meeting hosted by Cuban American National Foundation chairman Jorge Mas Santos, Rhodes huddled with critics of the regime. “We are one people,” Mas declared, once journalists were allowed inside to listen. “Do not allow the regime to marginalize us.”

In the room at the time were dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, in town for just a few days, as well as Santiago Province activist Carlos Amiel Oliva Torres of the Union Patriotic de Cuba, and Leticia Ramos of the Ladies in White, both of whom arrived in Miami on Thursday and were returning to the island Saturday.

Rhodes cast the speech as proposing a vision for future relations between the two countries and the two peoples. “He’ll be saying this not as a president who wants to impose a political system on Cuba,” he said. Rather, he’ll show the Cubans “what we believe in.”

Rhodes sent mixed signals on how far the administration would go to ensure that Miami-based journalists, especially Cuban-born reporters who have been unable to get visas, would be allowed on the island to cover Obama in Cuba.

The schedule was still in flux but Rhodes said Obama would attend an exhibition baseball game put on by the Tampa Bay Rays. Rhodes said he expected Raúl Castro to attend, noting “baseball is a language that is shared by Americans and Cubans.”

Rhodes also disclosed in Miami that Obama would be accompanied by the first lady, and four Cabinet members — Secretary of State John Kerry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business Administration. Rhodes pledged a bipartisan representation of Congress would also accompany the president, but said the list was not yet set.

“There is no question we have profound differences with the Cuban political system,” Rhodes said. But he insisted again and again that White House policy was to help empower a civil society by easing isolation and reaching out to the self-employed. “Our engagement is both with the government and people of Cuba.”

Rhodes said the topic of returning the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was not up for discussion in the three-day visit, although he said the Cuban government would no doubt raise it.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

WHY REPUBLICAN CRITIQUES OF OBAMA’S APPROACH TO HUMAN RIGHTS IN CUBA ARE WRONG

New York Times, MARCH 2, 2016

By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE

Original Essay: Obama’s Long Game for Cubans’ Rights

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s announcement that he will visit Cuba this month has prompted a new round of criticism from opponents of normalizing relations. Their complaint: that the administration’s opening to Cuba has yet to yield any tangible progress on human rights.

“I think the president ought to be pushing for a free Cuba” instead of going there, said one Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Mr. Cruz’s rival, echoed the theme: “A year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever.” The United States, such critics argue, should insist on human rights concessions in exchange for normalization.

Election year hyperbole aside, this argument sounds compelling because it appeals to core American values of democracy and human rights. But the critics have it backward: Mr. Obama has not given up on human rights in order to pursue normalization; he is pursuing normalization as a path to improving human rights. Nor is this a particularly new or exotic strategy; it’s been American policy toward China since President Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972.

As President Obama said when he announced the opening to Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014, he chose engagement because the old policy of trying to coerce concessions from Havana had failed. If anything, it made things worse by giving the Cuban government a convenient enemy to blame for its problems and a ready excuse to suppress dissent.

Mr. Obama’s strategy is more subtle. He aims to weave a web of economic and diplomatic ties that create self-interested reasons for Cuban leaders to change. As the president explained to Yahoo News, “The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information unfettered by censorship, the more you are laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time.” In the meantime, he says, Washington will continue to “push, prod, nudge” Cuban leaders to do better on human rights in the near term.

While critics denounce engagement as a betrayal of the Cuban people, the Cuban people themselves overwhelmingly support it. Anyone who was in Cuba, as I was, on Dec. 17, 2014, can testify to the jubilation with which they greeted the announcement. People applauded, hugged one another and cried. Church bells rang across Havana.

In April 2015, an independent poll on the island found that 97 percent of the 1,200 Cubans sampled thought better relations with the United States would be good for Cuba. And lest anyone think people were afraid to speak honestly, the poll also found that Mr. Obama was more popular than either Fidel or Raúl Castro (80 percent positive and only 17 percent negative, as compared with 50 percent negative for Fidel and 48 percent negative for Raúl). Mr. Obama can expect a warm welcome in Havana.

To be sure, some prominent Cuban dissidents have criticized his approach. Jorge Luis García Pérez — also known as Antúnez — called the vision of promoting change through engagement “a farce promoted by the Castro regime in order to perpetuate itself in power.” The political activist Antonio Rodiles has argued that American sanctions failed because they were “anemically imposed.”

But the dissident community is not monolithic. Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of Ladies in White, a group of women related to jailed dissidents, applauded Mr. Obama’s policy as “a unique opportunity to assist the Cuban people.” Elizardo Sánchez, who founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation and reports monthly about political arrests, also endorsed engagement, saying, “It’s better to resolve differences in this way, not to make war, either cold or hot.”

Engagement has already borne some fruit. Expanding commercial relations are reinforcing the economic liberalization that began in Cuba in 2011. Internet access is growing. Debate within Cuban civil society about the island’s economic and political future is more robust than ever. As Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who negotiated the 2014 agreements, noted, “We see everything that we’re doing as being in the net positive for the lives and human rights of the Cuban people.”

Mr. Obama’s visit is an opportunity to strengthen diplomatic and commercial ties, and to directly raise the issue of human rights both publicly and privately. He plans to meet with a broad range of civil society leaders and with a group of dissidents, as Secretary of State John Kerry did on a visit last August. In his public address, President Obama will undoubtedly speak with eloquence about the virtues of democracy and human rights, as former President Jimmy Carter did on his 2002 trip.

In short, human rights has never been off the agenda of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy, but experience has taught him that making imperious demands and issuing ultimatums did nothing to advance the cause. Instead, he is playing a long game, knowing that his strategy of engagement and persistent persuasion will not produce dramatic change overnight. Still, the president is gambling that his formula will create the conditions that draw Cuba inexorably toward a more open body politic and economy.

All gambles are uncertain, of course. But the president is on to something: Engagement has a better chance than the policy of hostility, which has been a losing bet for more than half a century.

William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., and a co-author, with Peter Kornbluh, of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

 zzzzzzzzzz

William M. LeoGrande

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

WHY IS OBAMA VISITING CUBA?

KONRAD YAKABUSKI

The Globe and Mail, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016

Original Article: Why is Obama visiting Cuba?

Only two months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the conditions under which he would visit Cuba before he leaves office. “If, in fact, I with confidence can say that we’re seeing some progress in the liberty and expression and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I’d love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress,” he said on the first anniversary of his historic announcement of the renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with the Communist holdout.

The world has become accustomed to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy flip-flops (see his “red line” in Syria) and desire to do away with the image of the United States as a meddling and moralizing superpower. But even critics of the five-decade U.S. policy of isolating the Castro regime were taken aback by news that Mr. Obama will next month become the first sitting president to visit to Cuba in 88 years.

In no material sense has Cuban President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, expanded the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Recent baby steps toward economic reform fit a pattern that seasoned Cuba watchers recognize all too well. The Castros are experts in diffusing the frustrations of average Cubans with their stultified economic conditions by offering up mini-reforms that, once the dust settles, never amount to much for average folk. Low expectations are now so integral to the Cuban condition that mere crumbs are welcomed.

There has been even less progress on human rights. Arbitrary arrests and detentions climbed steadily throughout 2015 and hit 1,474 people in January, according to the Cuban Observatory on Human Rights. Political repression has not eased. “The figures reflect only certain repressive actions, and therefore do not express all the violations of various human rights that occur in Cuba,” the Madrid-based organization noted. “But they serve to demonstrate the lack of political will to change on the part of the Cuban government, which remains stuck in intolerance and immobility.”

This has not stopped the Obama administration from unilaterally easing restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba and sending remittances to relatives on the island. It has reopened the U.S. embassy in Havana and announced plans for the resumption of commercial flights to Cuba by U.S. airlines. (Congress, however, has no intention of lifting the U.S. trade embargo.)

Mr. Obama plans to meet with dissidents, but under what conditions remains to be seen. The visit will be covered by Cuba’s state-run media, which will showcase to Cubans their censored version of it. It is not Mr. Obama’s style to deliver a Reaganesque ultimatum on foreign soil. The President hopes to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” Good luck with that.

The Castros have not held on to power for 57 years by taking friendly advice from neighbours on how to transition to democracy. If anything, Mr. Obama risks enhancing their legitimacy and strengthening their grip on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro, controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry) and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment. The regime is desperate for hard currency, especially now that fast-spiralling Venezuela can no longer play Cuba’s benefactor.

Mr. Obama seeks to make his opening toward Cuba “irreversible” for a future president and prepare for a post-Castro Cuba. But it would be naive to believe the 84-year-old Raul, who plans to quit the presidency in 2018, has not planned for his succession. Many Cuban experts believe he has chosen 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a Communist hardliner and first vice-president of the Cuban Council of State, to succeed him as president. But the real post-Raul power may lie with his son and/or son-in-law; both are top military officials who run some of Cuba’s biggest businesses.

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations and political repression have not stopped the United States from pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them.

The world does not need more (of the Castros’) Cuba.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

OBAMA SEEKS TO IMPROVE LIVES OF CUBANS IN HISTORIC MARCH VISIT

The Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 2016 9:34PM EST

By Josh Lederman and Kevin Freking

Original Article: HISTORIC VISIT

Barack Obama, Raul CastroPresident Barack Obama said Thursday his history-making visit to Cuba next month was part of an effort to “improve the lives of the Cuban people.” He vowed to press the communist government on human rights and other policy differences.

“We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world,” Obama wrote, as he announced the visit on Twitter.

The trip will make Obama the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades. In a series of tweets, Obama cast it as part of steady progression of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a communist nation estranged from the U.S. 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, eased travel restrictions and barriers for business and have moved to restore commercial air travel. A presidential trip was held out as significant leverage in these talks.

“There is much more that can be done — by the United States, and by the Cuban government — to advance this opening in ways that will be good for Cubans and good for the United States. That is why President Obama is travelling to Cuba,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote Thursday in a post on Medium, a blogging website. “We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travellers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement.”

Rhodes noted the ultimate aim is to persuade Congress to lift the trade embargo — an unlikely possibility in the near term.

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 one of the conditions for a presidential visit would be the ability for him to speak to all kinds of groups — including those that oppose the Castro government.

Obama’s stop in Cuba will be part of a broader trip to Latin America that the president will take next month. From Cuba, Obama will travel to Argentina, where he’ll meet with the new president.

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.”

“Today, a year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever,” Rubio said on CNN. Told of Obama’s intention to visit, he added, “Probably not going to invite me.”

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 that his administration started. Following secret negotiations between their governments, Obama and Castro announced in late 2014 that they would begin normalizing ties, and months later held the first face-to-face meeting between an American and Cuban president since 1958.

But Obama, facing steadfast opposition to normalized relations from Republicans and some Democrats, has been unable to deliver on the former Cold War foe’s biggest request: the lifting of the U.S. economic embargo. Opponents argue that repealing those sanctions would reward a government still engaging in human rights abuses and stifling democratic aspirations.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican born in Cuba, called the visit “absolutely shameful.”

“For more than 50 years, Cubans have been fleeing the Castro regime,” said Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress. “Yet the country which grants them refuge — the United States — has now decided to quite literally embrace their oppressors.”

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. Still, while Obama has long expressed an interest in visiting Cuba, White House officials had said the visit wouldn’t occur unless and until the conditions were right.

“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody” — including political dissidents, Obama told Yahoo News in December. “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.”

Officials didn’t immediately specify what had changed in the last few weeks to clear the way for the trip, first reported by ABC News. But on Tuesday, the two nations signed a deal restoring commercial air traffic as early as later this year, eliminating a key barrier to unfettered travel that isolated Cuban-Americans from their families for generations.

Hundreds of thousands more Americans are expected to visit Cuba per year under the deal, which cleared the way for the Transportation Department to open bidding by American air carriers on as many as 110 flights a day. Currently, there are about one-fifth as many flights operating between the two countries — all charters.

According to the State Department historian’s office, President Harry Truman visited the U.S.-controlled Guantanamo Bay and its naval base on the southeast end of the island in 1948 and former President Jimmy Carter has paid multiple visits to the island since leaving office in January 1981. Not since President Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in January 1928 has a sitting U.S. president been to that city.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment