U.S. President Barack Obama says he wants to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can talk with dissidents opposed to the regime of Cuban President Raul Castro.
“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama told Yahoo News in an interview published Monday. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President 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 and Castro renewed diplomatic relations between the two Cold War adversaries in the last year, ending a five-decade standoff between the island nation and its neighbor 145 kilometers to the north.
The U.S. and Cuba have reopened their long-closed embassies in Havana and Washington, but neither leader has visited the other country.
Obama said that he hopes that "sometime next year" he and his aides will see enough progress in Cuba advancing the plight of those silenced by the Castro government that they can say that “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.”
Obama, who leaves office in January 2017, reiterated his intention to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where 107 suspected terrorists are being held. He is expected to soon reach agreements with other countries to accept more freed prisoners and offer a plan to move some of the most dangerous suspects to new prison facilities on U.S. soil.
But Congress is opposed to moving any of the Guantanamo inmates to the United States and an Obama attempt to carry out such a plan through an executive order is sure to draw a heated protest from lawmakers and perhaps a legal challenge.