President Obama is poised to become the first sitting United States president to visit Cuba since 1928. After Obama announced the trip on Twitter, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes posted details about the trip on his Medium.com profile. It says Obama will be in Cuba on March 21 and 22 to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro,Cuban civilians and “people from different walks of life.”
However, it is unlikely that Obama will see Cuba’s former president, Fidel Castro,according to Reuters. Former President Calvin Coolidge was the last, and so far only other, United States president to visit Cuba. Coolidge arrived in the country on the USS Texas battleship for the sixth annual International Conference of American States in Havana, according to ABC News. When Coolidge was President, the U.S. practically governed Cuba in exchange for withdrawing military forces from the island, The Atlantic reports. This visit paved the way for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” of non-intervention in Latin America.
Obama is making the trip to enhance social and economic progress for Cuban civilians. Rhodes stated, “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.”
He also said that Cuba currently does not allow freedom of speech or assembly. Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said the Cuban government is willing to talk with the United States about its concerns, according to Reuters.
It is a risk for President Obama to try and change Cuba by aggressively engaging the country rather than remaining isolationist, according to The New York Times. Re-opening relations with Cuba will be one of Obama’s major foreign policy accomplishments in the past year. ABC News reported that the relations started with Obama’s promise to start diplomatic talks with Raul Castro after the release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross in December 2014.
Months later, Obama announced that the U.S. and Iran had agreed to a deal to limit Iran’s capabilities to build nuclear missiles in exchange for lifting economic sanctions on Iran. Iran finished its part of the deal in January, CNN reported.
Republican senators and presidential candidates Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), both of Cuban descent, disagreed with Obama’s decision to visit Cuba. At the CNN Town Hall on Feb. 17, when asked about whether he would visit Cuba as president, Rubio said “Not if it’s not a free Cuba. They’re a repressive regime. There’s no elections. No choice in Cuba.”
According to NBC News, Cruz said he was “saddened” when he heard Obama would make a trip to Cuba and he vowed “never to visit the country as long as Castro is in power.’”
First Lady Michelle Obama will join her husband on the trip, according to ABC News. They will then go on to Argentina for two days after leaving Cuba.
Editor’s Note: Information from NBC News, CNN, Medium, ABC News, Reuters and The Atlantic was used in this report.