US President Barack Obama said Monday that he is willing to visit Cuba in 2016 if Raul Castro’s government promises to respect Cubans’ human rights.
The president said he wants to visit the island before his government ends in 2017.
“If I go to visit (Cuba), part of the deal is that I will get to talk to everybody,” Obama said in an interview, conducted on the eve of the first anniversary marking the start of the process to normalize bilateral relations between the U.S. and the Caribbean country.
Obama reiterated, “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President (Raul) Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”
Obama insists he is “very interested” in visiting Cuba and added that he will take a decision “in the coming months.”
The president said that he and his top aides hope to see enough progress in Cuba and that they will be able to say,“now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”
On December 17, 2014, Obama and Raul Castro announced the start of a process to normalize bilateral relations that ended in July, with the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington after more than half a century of feuds.
This week the United States says it is close to an agreement with Cuba to restore regular commercial flights between the two countries.
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Havana, said that aviation is one of several issues on which the former enemies of the Cold War could reach an agreement soon.
The Obama administration has been working on completing the task of aviation before the end of the year.
“We’ve come a long way,” De Laurentiis said in a press conference over the phone.
Last week, the two countries took a further step towards full normalization with the announcement of an agreement to re-establish direct mail service through a pilot transport plan for mail and packages.
The biggest obstacle to full normalization of bilateral relations will be the dismantling of the complex legalities that supports the U.S. trade and financial embargo on Cuba, a task that will be encoded in law exclusively set forward by Congress.
President Obama, who will leave office in January 2017, reiterated his intention to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they 107 suspected terrorists are still detained, the country’s media has reported.
It is expected that he will soon reach agreements with other countries to accept more freed prisoners and provide a plan to transfer some of the most dangerous suspects to a new prison in U.S. territory.
However, U.S. Congress is opposed to bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States and any attempt by President Obama to carry that plan through is set to cause outcry among lawmakers.
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