Obama to lay out vision for Cuba in historic Havana speech
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will use an historic speech in Havana next week to lay out a vision of greater freedoms and more economic opportunity in Cuba, White House officials said Wednesday, offering a glimpse of how the president hopes to use his trip to encourage change on the communist island.
Obama's speech on Tuesday at the Grand Theater of Havana will mark a moment that seemed unimaginable only a few years ago, before Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to restore relations between the two estranged countries. Obama's advisers said they hoped Cubans would be able to watch the speech live on television, adding that Obama sought not to dictate outcomes but create the space for Cuba to change on its own.
"Ultimately he will make clear that that's for the Cuban people to decide," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We have great confidence in the ability of the Cuban people to do extraordinary things."
During his three-day trip to Cuba — the first to the country by a sitting president in nearly 90 years — Obama will also meet with Castro at the Palace of the Revolution and attend a Major League Baseball exhibition game. His much-anticipated meeting with Cuban dissidents will include prominent members of the government's opposition, Rhodes said, stressing that the U.S. and not Cuba was deciding who would attend.
Obama will open his visit late Sunday by touring cultural sites in Old Havana along with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, who are accompanying the president on his trip. Cardinal Jaime Ortega will also host the Obamas at the Havana Cathedral.
The president will lay a wreath on Monday at the Memorial to Jose Marti, the Cuban independence hero, before meeting with Castro in his offices along the famed Plaza of the Revolution. The White House said human rights, regional issues and ways to improve Cubans' standard of living were all on the agenda, with the leaders expected to address reporters after their meeting.
Obama planned to meet with U.S. and Cuban entrepreneurs in a bid to boost Cuba's nascent private-sector economy. Castro was to host the president for a state dinner at the palace on Monday evening.
Dozens of U.S. lawmakers, including a handful of Republicans, will travel with the president to Cuba along with U.S. business leaders and some Cuban-Americans, officials said, arguing that their inclusion reflected growing support in the U.S. for lifting the generations-old embargo. Yet there are few signs that Congress will agree to repeal the sanctions anytime soon.
Following his Cuba swing, Obama will travel to Buenos Aires to meet with new Argentinian President Mauricio Macri, who took office in December pledging to reverse many of the policies of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez. Obama has said that Fernandez's policies were "consistently anti-American" and praised Macri for recognizing that "we're in a new era."
In Argentina, Obama will meet next Wednesday with Macri at the Casa Rosada presidential office before laying a wreath and touring the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. He'll also hold a town hall meeting with young people before being feted at a state dinner. He planned to visit the picturesque city of Bariloche in Argentina's Patagonia region on Thursday before returning to Washington.