US President Barack Obama is to pay a historic visit to Cuba “in the coming weeks” a senior administration official has said.
Point of view
"The administration will announce the president's travel to Latin America, including Cuba, in the coming weeks."
The White House is to officially announce the trip — which will form part of a tour of Latin America — on Thursday (February 18).
“We can confirm that tomorrow the administration will announce the president’s travel to Latin America, including Cuba, in the coming weeks,” the official said.
American channel ABC first broke the news, reporting the visit would take place in March.
Obama’s visit will mark the conclusion of his efforts to restore relations with the island nation following half a century of tensions between Washington and Havana.
It will be the first visit by a sitting US president since 1928.
In December 2014, Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro surprised the world when they announced they’d held secret negotiations to thaw relations between the two countries, beginning with the resumption of full diplomatic ties.
Travel restrictions have since been eased and economic channels reopened.
The renewed relations haven’t been a crowd pleaser in the Republican camp.
As Obama’s two terms in office draw to an end, the White House is working on making the progress in relations with Cuba “irreversible.”
Republican presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both have Cuban backgrounds and have both called for a “free Cuba”. Rubio labelled Castro’s government “an anti-American communist dictatorship” and “a repressive regime”.
Cruz, meanwhile, added: “I think it’s a real mistake. I think the president ought to be pushing for a free Cuba,” said the Texas senator. “My family has seen firsthand the evil and the oppression in Cuba. We need a president who stands up to our enemies.”