Secretary of State John Kerry told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee he plans to travel to Cuba in the “next week or two” to discuss human rights.
The visit will be a few weeks before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit the communist dictatorship.
“I may be down there in the next week or two to have a human rights dialogue, specifically,” he said, adding:
The president hopes to press forward on the agenda of speaking to the people of Cuba about the future and obviously he is anxious to press on the rights of people to be able to demonstrate, to have democracy, to be free, to be able to speak and hang a sign in their window without being put in jail for several years.
President Obama will travel to Cuba on March 21 and 22.
“I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement–by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples,” President Obama declared.
The Cuban propaganda newspaper Granma used President Obama’s visit this week to argue that no evidence exists of human rights violations on the island, publishing the article on a weekend in which “state police arrested almost 200 dissidents for peaceful marches against communism.”
President Obama will meet with dictator Raúl Castro and “other Cuban people.” The dissident community called the visit “an error.”
“This will bring consequences,” activist Marta Beatriz Roque told the Spain-based Diario de Cuba. “These sorts of visits bring a lot of collateral damage.”
She added, “I had to move from my house because I could not keep living in the same building as my aggressors, who broke my arm through punches. It didn’t stop them that I am a 70-year-old woman.”
She also called President Obama “blind … if he has seen any advances in human rights.”
President Obama will also not visit troops stationed at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.
“This is not part of this trip,” said Ben Rhodes, the Obama’s deputy national security adviser, when a reporter asked him about a potential visit.
Kerry visited Cuba in August when the government opened an embassy in Havana. He told the Cubans, in Spanish, “No hay nada que temer.” (“There is nothing to fear.”) He also proclaimed he felt “at home here.” Before the visit, the Cuban government arrested 90 dissidents after they marched in Havana to protest President Obama’s decision to normalize relations.