Kerry Cancels Trip to Cuba Amid Haggling on Human Rights

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS) -

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has canceled a trip to Cuba two weeks before President Barack Obama visits the communist-ruled nation as diplomats haggle over which Cuban dissidents the president will be allowed to meet.

The back-and-forth over human rights is another sign of how prickly U.S.-Cuba relations remain despite the restoration of diplomatic ties, and the easing of many travel and trade restrictions, over the last year.

It also highlights a potential problem for Obama’s planned overnight visit on March 21, the first by a sitting president in nearly 90 years, to the former Cold War adversary.

Despite the U.S. push toward normalization of relations, the government in Havana has done little to ease its limits on free expression or to improve treatment of human rights activists and political dissidents.

Obama, in his announcement last month of his two-day trip, said he aims to engage with the Cuban people. Previously, he had said he would not go unless Cuba allowed significant progress on human rights.

Kerry, who flew to Havana in August to reopen the U.S. Embassy, had planned to return this week to lay the groundwork for Obama’s visit. But that trip was canceled, officials said Thursday, when arrangements could not be finalized.

Kerry “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,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman.