Latin America & Caribbean

President Barack Obama to make historic Cuba visit in March

Obama in the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 17 February 2016. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Obama previously said he wanted to meet political dissidents in Cuba

US President Barack Obama has confirmed he will visit Cuba in March as part of a broader trip to Latin America.

He will be only the second sitting US president in history to travel to the island's capital of Havana.

US Republicans have criticised the visit, saying it should not take place while the Castro family is in power.

Washington and Havana restored diplomatic ties last July and the US relaxed travel and trade restrictions after a 54-year freeze.

The US president confirmed his Cuba trip in a post on Twitter, saying: "Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people."

He will be joined by his wife, Michelle, travelling to the island on 21 to 22 March, before embarking on a two-day visit to Argentina, the White House said in a statement.

"This historic visit - the first by a sitting US president in nearly 90 years - is another demonstration of the president's commitment to chart a new course for US-Cuban relations and connect US and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information."

He will be the first US president to visit Havana since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 - President Harry Truman visited the US-controlled Guantanamo Bay in 1948, and former President Jimmy Carter has visited Cuba several times since leaving office.

President Obama is expected to meet members of civil society, entrepreneurs and "Cubans from all walks of life".

But Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of Cuban migrants, said the visit was a mistake.

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Asked whether he would go if he were president, Mr Rubio said: "Not if it's not a free Cuba." Mr Cruz said Mr Obama would be acting "as an apologist" and demonstrating "weakness and appeasement" to America's enemies.

In December, Mr Obama told Yahoo News he wanted to meet political dissidents in Cuba to help "nudge the Cuban government in a new direction".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Republicans say Mr Obama should not visit while President Raul Castro is in power

Cuba's government responded by saying Mr Obama was welcome to visit but should not meddle in the country's internal affairs.

Mr Obama's visit could coincide with the signing of a peace deal in Havana between the Colombian government and rebels from the Farc group to end that country's civil war, due to take place by 23 March.

The deal was encouraged by the Cuban government.

On Tuesday, US and Cuban officials signed a deal to resume commercial air traffic for the first time in five decades.

However, the Republican majority in the US Congress has blocked Mr Obama's call to end the longstanding trade embargo.

The embargo limits trade and also bans US tourists from visiting the island.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption US and Cuban officials have signed a deal to resume commercial air traffic