Obama to visit Cuba in March; first president to make trip in 88 years

By Doug G. Ware and Andrew V. Pestano   |   Feb. 17, 2016 at 9:11 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president in nearly a century to visit the island nation of Cuba when he visits in March.

"Our flag flies over our Embassy in Havana once again. More Americans are traveling to Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years," Obama wrote on Twitter. "We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world. Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people."

The visit would represent a landmark event in progressively thawing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to visit Cuba March 21-22.

"Even as we pursue normalization, we've made clear that we will continue to have serious differences with the Cuban government — particularly on human rights," the White House said in a statement. "As the President has said, Cuba will not change overnight, nor will all of the various differences between our countries go away. But the guiding principle of our Cuba policy  -- our North Star  --  remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people."

Last summer, both countries reopened embassies in the other country and Obama later cleared the way for resumption of commercial flights between the United States and the Caribbean island.

A trade embargo, however, imposed on the communist regime of Fidel Castro in 1960, remains in place. Obama and other advocates have called for the embargo's lifting in the past year.

Obama also said last year that he would like to visit Cuba before leaving office in January 2017.

"I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I think the conditions have to be right," he told Yahoo News in December.

Former President Calvin Coolidge was the last sitting president to visit Cuba, in 1928, when the two nations were still on good diplomatic terms -- three decades before Castro's revolution.

Last year, Obama also advocated the removal of Cuba from the U.S. blacklist of nations that sponsor terrorism.

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