Obama Opens 'A New Chapter with Cuba'

Promises to "speak candidly" about differences on democracy and human rights.

In this week's presidential address, Obama announced that he is going to Cuba to begin "a new chapter" by engaging the country in a way a president hasn't been able to do in nearly 90 years. He and Mrs. Obama will be going there to share American values and find common ground with the Communist government.

"When Michelle and I go to Havana next month," Obama began, "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."

"You see, I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement," he continued, "by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples. I’ve always said that change won’t come to Cuba overnight. But as Cuba opens up, it will mean more opportunity and resources for ordinary Cubans. And we’re starting to see some progress."

According to the president, that progress includes the American flag flying over the embassy, increased travel, and new friendships between our people and theirs. The president hopes that with direct flights and ferries opening soon to Cuba, "our citizens will have the chance to travel and work together and know each other."

Obama's visit "will be an opportunity to keep moving forward," he said, especially with American companies doing business in Cuba and helping Cuban entrepreneurs get a leg up. He continued:

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… 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.

We’re still in the early days of our new relationship with the Cuban people. This transformation will take time. But I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us—promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity.

Thanks everybody. And to the people of Cuba—nos vemos en La Habana. ["We'll see each other in Havana."]