Secretary of State John Kerry has canceled his trip to Cuba over a dispute, in part, about the Cuban government's human rights record.
According to Reuters – citing two U.S. officials on Thursday – Kerry canceled his trip because of roadblocks in negotiations between both countries regarding parameters for the Secretary's trip and President Barack Obama's historic trip this month.
Specifically, there were disagreements about Kerry's plan to meet with dissidents and over which dissidents President Obama might see in Havana during his scheduled trip to the island on March 21-22.
Kerry told Congress last month he planned to go to Cuba in the first two weeks of March to have a human rights dialogue. Kerry had flown to Havana in August to reopen the U.S. Embassy and was set to visit Cuba in the coming days. But the new and understaffed U.S. Embassy was reportedly overwhelmed with the prospects of back-to-back visits by both Kerry and Obama.
“The secretary is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best time frame,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Over the last year, the Obama administration has taken steps to normalize relations with Cuba – easing travel, lifting economic hurdles, and re-opening the U.S. embassy on the island. However, critics, including Cuban-American Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, believe the U.S. government made concessions with little in return from the communist regime. And, they argue, Cuba has not done enough to improve their dismal human rights record – including the imprisonment of human rights activists and political dissidents.
The White House laid out the reasoning behind Obama's upcoming historic trip in a Medium post last month.
"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," the post from the White House said. "Ultimately, we believe that Congress should lift an embargo that is not to advancing the Cuban people’s individual well-being and human rights, and remove onerous restrictions that aim to dictate to Americans where they can and cannot travel."