Obama discusses US-Cuba relations ahead of controversial trip

MIAMI (WSVN) — President Barack Obama on Monday addressed the evolving relations between the United States and Cuba, one week before his historic — and controversial — trip to the island nation.

Not everyone is happy with the U.S., Cuba relations and many plan to gather in a protest in Little Havana to voice their opinions, Sunday morning.

The commander in chief said, when he flies into Cuba on Monday, next week, he plans to use part of his visit to kick start U.S. business with the island.

The president said he also plans to bring up the issue of human rights. "During my visit, I intend to meet with dissidents, critics of the Cuban government," he said during an interview with CNN en Español correspondent Juan Carlos Lopez.

The visit was put in motion when the U.S. and Cuba restored relations by reopening their embassies in July. "The more that U.S. businesses are engaged there, the more that we have people traveling there, the more Cuban-Americans are able to interact with family members that in some cases they haven’t seen in decades, the more likely we are to see the kind of changes that all of us are hoping for," said Obama.

As of Tuesday, the Obama Administration announced that Americans can take "people to people" trips on their own to Cuba instead of expensive group tours.

In addition to that change, the administration is allowing U.S. banks to process Cuban government transactions that pass through a U.S. banking system. A previous ban on those transactions prevented Cuba from buying and selling goods internationally.

Obama will also use the historic trip to kick start U.S. business on the island. According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T, Starwood Hotels and Marriott are working to complete deals with Cuba. "The simple basis of our policy is that by loosening these restrictions, we are better able to engage the Cuban people, to support them, and to build bridges between our two countries," said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

However, critics of this easing of restrictions said this will come at a price. "The President’s visit to Cuba is nothing but a glorified trade mission to bring investment to a brutal dictatorship, which is beating and arresting hundreds of Cubans every week to remain in power," said Dr. Orlando Gutierrez, of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

The embargo remains in place. Only Congress can repeal it.

Not everyone is happy with the trip. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement, "U.S. policy must focus less on easing our regulations and more on putting pressure on the Castro brothers to unclench its fists which oppress the Cuban people."

Nevertheless, Obama said, opening up Cuba will bring about the change that the embargo hasn’t been able to achieve. "We have taken away an excuse that the Castro regime consistently used for why it couldn’t provide greater opportunity or freedom to its people, which was that the heavy-handed neighbor to the north was preventing them or sabotaging them," said Obama. "That’s no longer an excuse that’s viable."

Obama said the United States will continue to press for human rights. "We continue to press to make sure that over time we are widening more and more freedom for speech, assembly, religion, inside of Cuba," he said.

The president also made a prediction. "Sometime in the next president’s administration, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, that the embargo will, in fact, be removed, because it makes sense for us to be able to sell into Cuba, to do business with Cubans, show U.S. business practices, how we treat workers and how we approach issues of human rights," he said. "That will bring out the kinds of changes that are needed."

While in Cuba, Obama is scheduled to attend a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. That game is set for next Tuesday.

The protest in Little Havana is scheduled for Sunday, 11 a.m., at Eighth Street and 13th Avenue.