Cuba said Wednesday that it would “respectfully welcome” President Obama on a visit there later this month but suggested that he use the trip to end U.S. policies that attempt to “manufacture internal political opposition” on the island, lure away Cuban doctors and baseball players, and give preferential treatment to Cuban immigrants.
“These policies are incompatible with the new stage that the U.S. government has begun with our country,” said a 3,000-word editorial in Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper. Although they preceded Obama, it said, “he could change some of them by executive order and completely eliminate others.”
The White House is heading a massive delegation on the March 20-22 visit, including groups of U.S. business representatives and lawmakers. In addition to meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro, Obama will attend a baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays, and he will deliver a major speech.
He is also planning to meet with some political dissidents. That gathering, like a previous meeting during Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s visit to Cuba last summer, will probably take place at the home of the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, charge d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis.
The administration is sensitive to criticism that normalization of relations with Cuba has not led to an expansion of political freedom on the island, where the number of political detentions has sharply increased this year.
National security adviser Susan E. Rice met Wednesday with a group of U.S. civil society leaders “to discuss a wide range of human rights issues” in advance of the trip, a White House statement said. Rice, it said, “reiterated that while in Havana, President Obama will meet with Cuban independent civil society chosen by the White House” and emphasized that a “critical focus of charting a new course with Cuba” includes continued support for “the right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate.”
The Granma editorial noted that Obama is only the second U.S. president to visit Cuba. The first, it recalled, was Calvin Coolidge, who traveled there in 1929 under dictator Gerardo Machado.
“This will be the first time that a U.S. president comes to a Cuba that is master of its own sovereignty,” it said.
The editorial praised Obama, along with former president Jimmy Carter, not only for promoting normal relations but for using his executive powers to “take concrete actions in this direction.”
“Nevertheless,” it said, “there is still a long and complex road to travel to normalization, which will require resolution of key matters that have accumulated over the past five decades [and] . . . will not be resolved overnight or with one presidential visit.”
It noted that a majority of U.S. public opinion supports an end to the ongoing U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. Although Obama has taken “positive” steps to modify the embargo, it said, “it hasn’t been possible to implement a good part of them because of their limited scope, other remaining regulations, and the intimidating effects” of restrictions on both U.S. and international business.
“The reality,” it said, is that some aspects of the embargo have been intensified, including fines imposed on overseas banks and businesses deemed to have violated its provisions. The Treasury Department last summer fined France’s Credit Agricole $787 million, in part over prohibited Cuba-related dollar transactions.
Since the December 2014 announcement that the two countries would work to normalize relations, followed by reestablishment of diplomatic links last summer, the administration has loosened trade, banking and travel restrictions. Under new agreements authorizing direct commercial flights, 13 U.S. airlines have applied for Transportation Department approval to fly to Cuba.