Telesur, February 18, 2016 - The U.S. president announced the news Thursday morning on Twitter. U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Cuba in the coming weeks, he said on his official Twitter account, marking the first trip by a sitting president to the island since 1928.
The trip viewed as a means to cement an important part of Obama's legacy as president: the normalization of relations with Cuba after five decades of hostility. "In Cuba, the president will work to build on the progress we have made toward normalization of relations with Cuba — advancing commercial and people-to-people ties that can improve the well-being of the Cuban people, and expressing our support for human rights," the White House said in a statement on Thursday. "In addition to holding a bilateral meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, President Obama will engage with members of civil society, entrepreneurs and Cubans from different walks of life." The trip to Cuba is also sure to play a part in the ongoing race for the U.S. presidency. Two of the Republican contenders, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are of Cuban descent and have vocally opposed the Obama administration's efforts at relaxing the decades-old blockade on the island nation. Both condemned the the news that Obama will visit the country.
On Thursday, White House officials also announced that Obama will follow his trip to Cuba with a trip to Argentina. Right-wing President Mauricio Macri has been eager to cozy up to the United States after years of fraught relations between the two countries. There is speculation that the timing of Obama's trip to Cuba is meant to coincide with the finalization of the ongoing peace process between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos. Negotiations between the FARC and the government have been taking place in Havana, Cuba since 2012 and a final deal is expected in late March.
It is not known if Obama would participate in any ceremonies should the events overlap. Pope Francis narrowly missed an opportunity to participate in a historic meeting between FARC Commander Timoleon Jimenez and President Juan Manuel Santos during his visit to Cuba in September 2015. Santos has praised the support of the Obama administration for the Colombian peace process. Colombia and the United States recently announced that Plan Colombia – a multibillion dollar U.S. military aid initiative aimed at ending the communist insurgency – would become “Paz Colombia” or Peace Colombia, with funds destined for post-conflict programs.
The Washington Post reported that should the signing of a final peace deal be delayed, the trip to Cuba would proceed as planned. Obama told Yahoo! News in December that he hoped to visit Cuba in 2016, but only if enough progress had been made in bilateral relations and he was able to meet with opponents of the Cuban government. Cuban officials said they would welcome a visit by the U.S. president but reiterated their longstanding position that Obama should not attempt to interfere in Cuba's internal affairs. The last and only sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.