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  1. #1
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    Hans Mann's Avatar
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    Obama to make historic visit to Cuba in March



    Barack Obama will next month become the first US president to visit Cuba in almost a century, championing engagement with the Communist-ruled island and burying one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

    The White House hopes the trip will be a "Berlin Wall" moment, crowning a policy they see as being among Obama's greatest foreign policy achievements.

    "Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people," the US leader said in one of a series of tweets.

    Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will travel to the Communist-controlled island March 21-22.

    The last American leader to visit Cuba while in office was Calvin Coolidge in 1928 -- before television or air travel were commonplace.

    In the generations that followed Cuba became synonymous with crisis and threat for Americans -- from the disastrous CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to a Missile Crisis the following year that terrified the nation.

    For Cubans, antagonism with a superpower neighbor led to a crippling economic embargo that still makes everyday life difficult.

    Since coming to office in 2009, Obama argued that engagement would do more to change Cuba than embargoes and isolation.

    "We tried it one way for 50 years," said top Obama foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes.

    "We had an embargo. We had democracy funding. And you did not have a promotion of human rights on the island."

    In December 2014, Obama made a shock announcement that he and Raul Castro had been in secret talks on a rapprochement.

    The pair then met in April 2015 in Panama, making Obama the first sitting US president to meet a Cuban leader since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

    Diplomatic relations were restored in July.

    - 'Still have differences' -

    A presidential visit will be the capstone of Obama's policy of engagement, but it is also a gamble.

    Raul Castro's government has shown a willingness to slowly open the economy, but Cuba's political system is still utterly dominated by the regime.

    Human rights groups say that detentions have actually increased of late, reaching around 8,000 last year, even as longer-term prisoners have been released.

    "What worries us is that Obama had said in December that he would only come to Cuba if there was progress on human rights," Berta Soler of the Damas de Blanco told AFP.

    "The repression continues," she added.

    Anticipating such criticism, Obama said: "We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world."

    Rhodes said Obama would meet civil society leaders during his trip and would look to address the Cuban people directly.

    He will not, however, meet long-time American nemesis Fidel Castro. "Raul Castro is the president of Cuba," said Rhodes.

    Obama's visit will come just weeks before a pivotal Cuban Communist Party congress.

    The meeting could decide who becomes the first non-Castro to control Cuba since the brothers came down from the Sierra Maestra mountains and ousted Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day 1959.

    Obama will want to prod Havana into more direct elections, but the White House is betting that opening Cuba to a flood of American tourists and American business is the fastest and most enduring way to bring change.

    Cuba lost its chief economic benefactor in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed and is likely to suffer the same fate again as tumult in Venezuela turns off the spigot of heavily subsidized crude.

    For now the United States and Cuba are treading cautiously, taking incremental steps to facilitate trade, investment and the movement of people.

    There are 1.8 million Cuban Americans and Cuba has a population of 11 million.

    But Cuba's leaders will want to manage reforms in a way that does not threaten their political power or vested interests in state-run firms -- taking their ideological lead from Vietnam and China.

    The government's baby steps to open the economy have not convinced the thousands of Cubans who voted with their feet and left the island since ties warmed.

    - Opposition at home -

    For Obama a deeply symbolic trip to Cuba puts his presidency back in the limelight as power shifts to his possible successors and the 2016 election.

    But he faces significant opposition to any further warming of ties. The Republican-controlled Congress has made it clear it does not intend to end the embargo.

    For that to happen requires that Cuba move toward direct elections and begin to settle some 6,000 compensation lawsuits for US-owned property seized during the 1959 revolution.

    Those suits are estimated to be worth about $8 billion.

    Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, said the trip was a "mistake" and urged Obama to reconsider.

    Obama to make historic visit to Cuba in March

  2. #2
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    harrybarracuda's Avatar
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    Once the doors open it will turn into a tourist trap.

    Shame, I wanted to visit it before that happened, but the one time it was on the table I was put off by the fact that you have to first pay for your flight and hotel, and then send your passport and everything off (in my case, to a different country) to apply for a visa.

  3. #3
    Thailand Expat AntRobertson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda
    Once the doors open it will turn into a tourist trap
    Thanks Obama!


  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda View Post
    Once the doors open it will turn into a tourist trap.

    Shame, I wanted to visit it before that happened, but the one time it was on the table I was put off by the fact that you have to first pay for your flight and hotel, and then send your passport and everything off (in my case, to a different country) to apply for a visa.
    Which will employ tens of thousands of people and bring in much needed foreign currency , were would Thailand be today without the hundreds of billions of baht Tourism brings in per annum and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it provides . ?

  5. #5
    Pronce. PH said so AGAIN!
    slackula's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by harrybarracuda
    Shame, I wanted to visit it before that happened, but the one time it was on the table I was put off by the fact that you have to first pay for your flight and hotel, and then send your passport and everything off (in my case, to a different country) to apply for a visa.
    I always wanted to go too. At one point I was up for a job there and made it to the final two but they went for an Italian guy who spoke better Spanish than I did and who had worked in a couple of USSR satellite states.

    He was my boss at the time so he got to swan off to sunny Havana and I was left freezing my bollocks off in a hotel construction site in Yunan Province, China.

    He had a fucking whale of a time there too the wop bastard! He'd send pics of Consuela De Maria Tittie del Playa getting her groove on and I'd reply with Mingin Minge, some disreputable hill tribe brickie who stank of construction site no matter how much she was scrubbed down and would like as not purloin a wallet on the way out.

    That Fidel dude might have good cigars but he's a terrible judge of character imho.
    bibo ergo sum
    If you hear the thunder be happy - the lightening missed.
    This time.

  6. #6
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    Obama sure knows how to ratchet up the history photo opportunities, and good on him for spotting these historical slots.

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