President Obama’s Visit to Cuba: An Opportunity to Refocus on Human Rights

On March 20–22, President Barack Obama will visit Cuba, the first sitting U.S. President to do so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. As part of his radical Cuba policy shift, the President is meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro. Since the President announced this shift in December 2014, U.S. policy toward Cuba has deviated drastically from a focus on human rights and a democratic transition to engaging the Castro regime and providing the government in Havana with expanded commercial opportunities with the U.S.

President Obama should use the opportunity afforded by this trip both to prove his critics wrong and to set Cuba policy back on the proper course. While he has rightly expressed his desire to meet with dissidents and members of Cuban civil society, that alone is insufficient. Rather than continuing to appease the government in Havana, the President should use his bully pulpit to publicly push for a human rights agenda in Cuba.

President Obama should promote America’s national interest and support human rights and freedom by; Meeting publicly with members representing the full spectrum of Cuba’s civil society; Pledging support for Cuba’s persecuted religious community; Pushing for the return of U.S. fugitives housed in Cuba; Aggressively seek compensation for U.S. property and asset claimants; And working to build a regional coalition to support a democratic transition on the island.

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