As he works to cement his legacy in the final year of his presidency, President Obama will crown his historic rapprochement with Cuba with a visit to the island as soon as March, the first for a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years, according to media reports.
Obama has made no secret about wanting to visit the communist island ever since he broke the diplomatic freeze between the two governments that had been maintained by 10 U.S. presidents.
ABC News and Reuters reported the news Wednesday night, citing unnamed sources.
According to CNN, the White House may make an official announcement on Thursday.
Obama said during an interview in December that he was interested in visiting Cuba before the end of his term, but that the “conditions have to be right.” That included a visible change in the lives, liberties and economic possibilities of Cubans following his announcement on Dec. 17, 2014, to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Since then, both sides have made significant strides. Embassies have reopened in Washington and Havana. The Obama administration has published a series of rule changes to allow U.S. businesses to export products to Cuban entrepreneurs. The two sides reached an aviation agreement that will allow for regularly-scheduled commercial flights and U.S. cellular companies are providing roaming service on the island.
Yet the Cubans have not fully embraced the openings created by Obama.
Human rights organizations say political persecution remains an everyday occurrence on the island. In 2015, the first full year of the new relationship with Cuba, 8,616 Cubans deemed political prisoners were detained or arrested by the government, according to the Havana-based Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation. That figure is only slightly lower than the 8,899 politically-motivated arrests in 2014.
Opponents of Obama’s Cuba opening say those arrests prove that Obama’s strategy has already failed. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, both Cuban-Americans running for president, have said they’ve seen no change in Cuba’s repressive regime. Rubio has called the changes “one-sided concessions,” Cruz has called the opening an “unconditional surrender” and both have vowed to cut diplomatic ties if they’re elected. (Courtesy USA Today)