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Kerry cancels Cuba trip over human rights disagreements

By Ed Adamczyk Follow @adamczyk_ed Contact the Author   |   Updated March 4, 2016 at 10:58 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to Cuba due to disagreements over which dissidents President Barack Obama will meet with during his upcoming visit.

"Common agreement" was lacking between the State Department and the Cuban government on aspects of Kerry's trip, a U.S. official said, including political dissidents Obama intends to meet when he arrives in Havana on March 21 for a one-day visit.

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It will be the first time in nearly 90 years that a sitting U.S. president will arrive on Cuban soil. Obama has said he would not visit Cuba until progress on human rights was evident. When announcing his visit in February, though, Obama said he hopes to engage with the Cuban people.

Cuban leader Raul Castro has been supportive of the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations but has insisted the country's political system and "socialist nature of the revolution" will stay unchanged. Cuban activists say several dozen political prisoners are in jail, and many more have been detained for brief periods; 1,414 political dissidents were detained in January, Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said.

Kerry planned to visit Cuba to prepare for Obama's trip and "have a human rights dialogue," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 24, but his plans were officially canceled Thursday when arrangements could not be made.

John Kirby, State Department spokesman, said Kerry "is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best time frame."

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