U.S. President Barack Obama, during his weekly address to the American people, talks about his upcoming official visit to Cuba in March. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday announced a historic trip to Cuba that will be another major step toward ending decades of animosity between the former Cold War foes. "We made it official - I'm going to Cuba," said Obama in his weekly address. It will be the first visit by a U.S. president to the Caribbean nation since 1928, and Obama is scheduled to meet with entrepreneurs and people from different walks of life during the trip on March 21 and 22, but he is unlikely to see Fidel Castro, the former president and revolutionary leader, U.S. officials said. The White House hopes Obama's trip will help accelerate change on the Communist-run island, and cement progress made under his watch, but Republicans at home complained that it would give legitimacy to Cuba's oppressive government. "When Michelle and I go to Havana next month, it will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years. And it builds on the decision I made more than a year ago to begin a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Cuba," said Obama. After decades of hostility following Cuba's 1959 revolution, the two countries agreed in 2014 to move to reopen ties, but the U.S. embargo on Cuba remains and Washington frequently criticizes Havana's human rights record. Obama said his trip would be an "opportunity to keep moving forward". "I'll meet with President Castro to discuss how we can continue normalizing relations, including making it easier to trade and easier for Cubans to access the Internet and start their own businesses. As I did when I met President Castro last year, I'll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights. I'll reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand up for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and religion," said the president. The opening to Cuba was a diplomatic feat that is likely to form part of Obama's foreign policy legacy along with the nuclear deal he struck with another long-time U.S. foe, Iran. Officials decided that traveling to Cuba now rather than at the end of Obama's term would give them more leverage to make progress on expanding Internet access and opening up business opportunities for Cubans and Americans.