U.S. President Barack Obama to Pay Visit to Cuba in March 2016
“Next month, I’ll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.” – U.S. President Barack Obama
With those words, President Barack Obama informed the world via Twitter (@POTUS) that he will become the first sitting U.S. President in more than three quarters of a century to visit Cuba.
The last time an American President paid a call on the island nation was in 1928 when President Calvin Coolidge arrived as Commander-in-Chief aboard the battleship USS Texas to attend the Pan American Conference in Havana. It was there that President Coolidge hoped to diffuse tensions between the United States and a host of Latin American leaders who had been angered by America’s tight-fisted control of everything from Panama Canal operations to Honduran fruit and Venezuelan oil revenues.
Said President Coolidge in his Jan. 16 address to the conference:
“The light which Columbus followed has not failed. The courage which carried him on still lives. They are the heritage of the people of Bolivar and of Washington. We must lay our voyage of exploration toward complete understanding and friendship. Having taken that course, we must not be turned aside by the fears of the timid, the counsels of the ignorant, or the designs of the malevolent. With law and charity as our guides, with that ancient faith which is only strengthened when it requires sacrifices, we shall anchor at last in the harbor of justice and truth. The same Pilot which stood at the side of the Great Discoverer, and the same Wisdom which instructed the founding fathers of our republics, will continue to abide with us.”
According to reports at the time by The Scranton Republican, “Calvin Coolidge did more yesterday for the development of unity of spirit on the Western Hemisphere than has been done in many a long year.” Relations thawed somewhat following presentations made by Coolidge and his team, and improved further when President Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted a nonintervention strategy in 1933 – a decade after it had first opened its U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Relations deteriorated again, however, when Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. In 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appropriated more than $13 million for efforts to bring down the Castro regime, including the Bay of Pigs Invasion launched by America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Apr. 13 during the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
Afterward, as Cuba was gripped further by Marxism, President Kennedy imposed a trade embargo, and ultimately ended diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 1961. After weathering the Cuban Missile Crisis and narrowly avoiding nuclear war during 13 tense days in Oct. 1962, the American government restricted travel between the two nations.
But despite these and other restrictions enacted by other American presidents since that time, Castro’s regime stayed in power.
“For more than fifty years, the United States pursued a policy of isolating and pressuring Cuba. While the policy was rooted in the context of the Cold War, our efforts continued long after the rest of the world had changed. Put simply,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, “U.S. Cuba policy wasn’t working and was well beyond its expiration date…. Most importantly, our policy was not making life better for the Cuban people — and in many ways, it was making it worse.”
It is largely for this last reason – the improved wellbeing of the Cuban people – that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will make their historic trip to Havana, Cuba Mar. 21-22, 2016.
“We’ve already seen indications of how increased engagement can improve the lives of the Cuban people. Cuba’s nascent private sector — from restaurant owners to shopkeepers — has benefited from increased travel from the American people,” observed Rhodes, who noted that travel by Americans to Cuba has already increased a whopping 54 percent since last summer when America restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and Secretary of State John Kerry raised the American flag over the re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana. This figure is expected to skyrocket with the recent news that direct flights have been restored between the U.S. and Cuba.
Meanwhile, the Cuban government is expanding Internet access for its citizens and visitors by adding a broadband connection and increasing the number of wireless hotspots.
President Obama, said Rhodes, wants “to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba,” and hopes the Cuban government will work to improve human rights will also increasing the opportunities for its people to benefit from the engagement of U.S. businesses and travelers with Cuban citizens. “Ultimately, we believe that Congress should lift an embargo that is not [conducive] to advancing the Cuban people’s individual well-being and human rights, and remove onerous restrictions that aim to dictate to Americans where they can and cannot travel.”
1. Calvin Coolidge: Foreign Affairs, on Miller Center website. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, retrieved online: February 18, 2016.
2. Coolidge Is Impressive at Havana, in Oakland Tribune. Oakland: 22 January 1928.
3. The Great Father Speaks to a Hemisphere, in The Scranton Republican. Scranton: 17 January 1928.
4. President Obama Is Going to Cuba, on Ben Rhodes’ Medium Blog. Washington, D.C., retrieved online: February 18, 2016.