- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

President Obama will visit Cuba next month, the first U.S. president to travel to Havana in nearly 90 years, the White House said Thursday.

First lady Michelle Obama will accompany the president on the trip March 21-22. The White House said the president will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and “Cubans from different walks of life” to promote closer ties between the two former Cold War adversaries.

“It will be fun when we go,” the president told reporters Thursday.

Following the stop in Havana, the Obamas and their daughters will travel to Buenos Aires to meet new Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.

“This historic visit — the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years — is another demonstration of the president’s commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations and connect U.S. and Cuban citizens through expanded travel, commerce, and access to information,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

The Cuba move is another step in Mr. Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, formalized last year. The upcoming trip was immediately denounced at a CNN town-hall meeting by Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Cuban-Americans who are seeking the Republican presidential nomination and have been sharply critical of Mr. Obama’s policy.

The reports also came a day after the U.S. and Cuba signed a deal allowing regular passenger-plane service for the first time since the communist revolution in the early 1960s.

The president will stop in Cuba as part of a tour of Latin America in March.

When he started the warming to the Cuban communist regime, Mr. Obama said he hoped to visit but “conditions have to be right,” explaining that this meant changes had to be happening in Cuba on economics and human rights.

Both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio said the president was not meeting that standard and said Mr. Obama should be demanding more concessions from Cuba.

Mr. Cruz said a U.S. president should be “pushing for a free Cuba” and Mr. Rubio noted that Cuba is still harboring U.S. criminals including cop-killers that it maintains are revolutionaries.

“The Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that he would not make such a trip himself as long as Cuba remains a dictatorship.

Mr. Cruz, whose father is Cuban, said “my family has seen first-hand the evil and oppression in Cuba.”

Mr. Obama would be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba — not counting the permanent U.S. base on Guantanamo Bay — since Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

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