Dove Magazine

Obama: Cuba Visit Will Advance Efforts to ‘Improve Lives of the Cuban People’

Barack Obama's visit to Cuba next month represents a key step in the president's effort to improve U.S. relations with the Communist-led country. The move also suggests Obama remains determined to push ahead with what he sees as a legacy achievement before leaving office a year from now.FILE – President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet for an informal talk on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, April 11, 2015.

Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba next month represents a key step in the president’s effort to improve U.S. relations with the Communist-led country. The move also suggests Obama remains determined to push ahead with what he sees as a legacy achievement before leaving office a year from now.

The president confirmed on Twitter Thursday he will travel to Cuba in March.

Since the historic thaw in ties was announced in December 2014, Obama has made steady progress breaking down diplomatic barriers with the former Cold War enemy. The successes include restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies in each other’s capitals. The U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have talked regularly and met twice.

Using his executive authority, Obama has persistently chipped away at the longstanding U.S. restrictions on business, investment and travel in Cuba. The latest step came last week, when the two countries reached an arrangement to restore the first direct commercial flights between the countries in more than 50 years.

There is a limit to what Obama can achieve on his own. The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which has been in place for decades, can only be removed by Congress. Although support for the embargo is declining, it still has widespread backing from lawmakers in both parties who say lifting the restrictions would essentially reward what is one of Latin America’s most politically repressive countries.

Obama argues the embargo is a broken policy that has not only hurt Cuba economically but also failed to spur democratic reforms, something he says will only come when Cuba opens up to the world.

Little improvement so far

But so far there is little evidence detente has led to human rights improvements. Despite Cuba’s freeing some political prisoners and working to improve Internet access, censorship remains widespread and dissidents continue to be jailed at about the same rate as in past years, according to rights groups.

Photo gallery: US Rapprochement With Cuba

Nonetheless, there are hints Cuba is considering at least modest reforms to its rigid, one-party political system. Raul Castro, brother of iconic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, has proposed term limits for senior leaders and raised the possibility of a constitutional referendum. More significantly, Raul, who took over from his brother in 2006, has promised to step down in 2018. If that happens, it will be the first time since 1959 that a Castro has not been in charge of the island.

But other issues beside the Castros complicate the U.S.-Cuba relationship, including the American-run military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Castro has said the only way for ties to be completely restored is if Washington returns the base to Cuban control. Obama has given no signs he intends to do that. But Obama is working to fulfill his longtime promise of closing down the base’s controversial prison, which holds dozens of suspected terrorists.

Although challenges to the U.S.-Cuba relationship remain, there is evidence to suggest the American public does not view its southern neighbor with as much suspicion as it once did. A poll released this week by Gallup showed a majority (54 percent) of Americans now view Cuba favorably. That is up from the 10 percent of Americans who viewed Cuba positively in 1996. But Gallup also noted the partisan divide over Cuba has grown larger. While 73 percent of Democrats view Cuba favorably, only 34 percent of Republicans do the same. — VOA NEWS 

 

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