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US president makes historic trip to Cuba then heads farther south

March 21, 2016 - CUBA, ARGENTINA

United States President Barack Obama plans a trip to Cuba Mar 21-22, the first visit in 88 years by a sitting US president, then stops off in Buenos Aires over Mar 23-24 to meet with recently-elected President Mauricio Macri. He travels to Havana almost empty-handed: the Republican-controlled US Congress is hostile to Cuba's demands for reparations and the return of Guantanamo. President Raul Castro, meanwhile is unlikely to move on US demands without concessions from Washington.

Guantanamo is now a US military prison, and Congressional resistance has stymied Obama's vow to close it. Congress also shows no interest in considering the reparations Cuba demands for economic damage caused by the trade embargo imposed in 1960, while Washington's demand for human rights reforms in Cuba are unlikely to happen without an effort to address the reparations issue. The mood is friendlier to lifting the US trade embargo, but Cuba can be counted on to balk if the price is paying for assets seized from Americans and US companies some 55 years ago by then-revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

The last and only sitting US president to visit the island nation just 90 miles from Florida was Calvin Coolidge.

Havana and Washington restored diplomatic relations in 2015, and made a recent deal that restores commercial air traffic.

In Buenos Aires, Obama will hold bilateral talks about trade and human rights with center-right president Mauricio Macri. The visit can be counted on to trigger demonstrations that are timed to capture the attention of the visiting foreign press. Some demonstrations will be against Macri's austerity drive. Others will be by human rights groups, including the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo, who are still seeking government accountability for the disappearance of their children during the country's so called dirty war, between 1976 and 1983.

Statement on President's Travel to Cuba and Argentina (White House 18 Feb 2016)

Obamas to make historic trip to Cuba, Argentina next month (Washington Post 18 Feb 2016)

Cuba reparations talks should look to future, not past (LA Times 21 Dec 2015)

Obama to Visit Argentina's New President Macri on Anniversary of Military (Tele Sur 19 Feb 2016)

Date written/update: 2016-02-22