- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - When President Barack Obama heads to Cuba, he’ll be bringing along two members Massachusetts’ all-Democratic congressional delegation who have encouraged stronger ties between the two nations.

One of those traveling with Obama is U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, who has long pushed to normalize U.S. and Cuba relations.

Last August, McGovern joined Secretary of State John Kerry in Havana for the reopening of the U.S. Embassy. In December, McGovern helped launch a bipartisan Cuba Working Group designed to further strengthen ties with the country.

“Americans have long been ready for a 21st century approach to Cuba,” said McGovern, in his 10th term representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

Strengthening those ties will help create new opportunities for American businesses, increase travel and exchange, support efforts to advance democratic reforms and promote human rights, McGovern said.

Also joining Obama will be the state’s newest member of Congress, Democrat Seth Moulton, who represents the state’s 6th Congressional District.

Moulton is one of 60 co-sponsors of a bill aimed at ending restrictions on travel by American citizens and legal residents to Cuba.

Moulton sees the trip as part of a larger diplomatic effort to break down walls between the two nations, which he said will unleash the potential for trade, travel and the exchange of ideas.

He said the ongoing engagement will also help “bring an end to undemocratic practices such as unjust imprisonment, restrictions on free speech, and failed economic controls.”

The trip will mark a historic moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, with Obama becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly nine decades. The U.S. was estranged from the communist nation for over half a century until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved toward detente more than a year ago.

Since then, the nations have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana and moved to restore commercial flights, with the presidential visit seen as a key next step.

While in Havana, Obama plans to give a major speech that the White House has said will focus on the future of U.S.-Cuba ties and how Cubans can pursue a better life.

Critics, including several Republican lawmakers, have faulted Obama’s overture to Cuba, saying the U.S. should continue to isolate the island by maintaining its economic embargo.

Others, like McGovern, say the easing of relations is overdue.

He pointed to other bills pending before Congress that would allow U.S. businesses to trade with Cuba without restrictions, let U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide services to the island, and allow for U.S. investment in privately owned Cuban agriculture businesses.

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