This month, President Barack Obama will become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in 88 years.
The visit, which is scheduled for March 21-22 in Havana, Cuba is part of an ongoing effort to bridge the 88-year divide between the two nations.
“Next month, I’ll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people,” Obama tweeted. “We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world.”
The White House said the president will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, as well as entrepreneurs and other members of Cuban society.
The president and Raul Castro first took steps towards reopening diplomatic relationships in December 2014. Since then, U.S. Embassies have reopened in Cuba, and steps have been taken to restore commercial air travel between the nations, according to The Associated Press.
“Our flag flies over our Embassy in Havana once again,” Obama said on Twitter. “More Americans are traveling to Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years.”
The last and only sitting president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge, in 1928, to address the Sixth Annual International Conference.
In a post detailing the trip on Medium, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that although there have been advancements made, progress is still scarce.
“We want to open up more opportunities for U.S. businesses and travelers to engage with Cuba, and we want the Cuban government to open up more opportunities for its people to benefit from that engagement,” Rhodes said.
Duane Adamson, Associate Dean of Political Science at BYU-Idaho, said Obama’s visit to Cuba is the natural next step in ongoing efforts to normalize diplomatic relations.
Adamson said Obama’s visit to Cuba is similar to President Richard Nixon’s visit to communist China in 1972.
“Imagine in the middle of the cold war, an American president saying he’s going to the largest communist country in the world,” Adamson said. “It took everybody by surprise. They were communist and weren’t like us.”
Adamson said Nixon chose to engage China rather than close relations, and in many ways, Obama is taking a similar approach.
He said this is the time for the U.S. to impose change from within the country.
“You bring the money, the ideas, the business relationships and things from within,” Adamson said. “We’ve tried one way for decades now. Should we try another?”
Adamson said positive incentives bring more change than negative incentives.
“Is the horse pushed along better if you whip it with a stick, or you offer it carrots for good work?” he said. “Social science says more often positive re-enforcements are more effective than negative re-enforcements. That’s true of how you raise your children, how countries interact with each other.”
Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father emigrated from Cuba, said at CNN’s GOP town hall that he is troubled by the prospect of the president’s visit.
“I think it’s a real mistake,” Cruz said. I think the president ought to be pushing for a free Cuba “ Cruz said. “My family has seen first hand the evil and the oppression in Cuba. We need a president who stands up to our enemies.”
Vanessa Orozco, whose father emigrated from Cuba and a senior studying exercise physiology, said her and her family are hopeful Obama’s visit will be the last step towards ending the embargo between the two nations.
“I would love to have my family be able to visit me here,” Orozco said. “My dad just wants his family to have better access to medicine and books.”
Orozco said she has visited Cuba three times during her life, and understands the need for a drastic change to way of life in Cuba.
“I felt like I was living in the past,” Orozco said. “Everything was broken down, and technology wasn’t super advanced.
Orozco said she especially hopes the Church will gain more access to the people of Cuba.
“My hope is that we really get to spread the word there,” she said. “My family didn’t even know what Mormons were, so I’m excited to see how things change.”