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President Obama to Make Historic Visit to Cuba

by Alex Johnson and Ron Allen /  / Updated 

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Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years, in what would be a crucial turning point between the Cold War rivals that recently shed their decades-old hostilities.

Obama will visit the communist island nation in March, he said in a tweet. A senior administration official told NBC News that the details would be announced Thursday as part of a larger tour by Obama of Latin America.

Plans for the presidential visit could also coincide with a trip by a Major League Baseball team, given the island's passion for the sport.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that they would normalize relations after decades of broken ties. A year later, Obama said he would consider visiting Cuba if there was evidence of significant improvements in civil liberties.

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Obama and Castro met last April in Panama in the first official meeting of the leaders of the two nations since the United States cut diplomatic relations in 1961 after Castro's brother, Fidel Castro, seized power.

The last sitting president to visit the island was Calvin Coolidge, who addressed the Pan-American Conference of Western Hemisphere leaders in Havana in 1928.

Cuban officials are concerned that the executive actions taken by Obama to normalize relations could be reversed next year, given the opposition of leading Republican presidential candidates to restoring ties with Cuba.

Related: Obama, Raul Castro Hold Historic Meeting Between U.S., Cuba

At a Republican presidential campaign forum in Greenville, South Carolina, on Wednesday night, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida criticized reports of Obama's plans, calling Castro's government "an anti-American communist dictatorship."

Asked whether he would ever visit Cuba as president, Rubio — whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1956 — said, "Not if it's not a free Cuba."

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whose father was born in Cuba and was granted political asylum in the United States, said he was "saddened" by the news and vowed never to visit the country "as long as Castro is in power."

Last August, Secretary of State John Kerry took part in a ceremonial flag raising in Havana to mark the end of the freeze between the U.S. and Cuba. He was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island since World War II.

"My friends, it doesn't take a GPS to realize that the road of mutual isolation and estrangement that the United States and Cuba were traveling is not the right one and that the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction," Kerry said at the ceremony. "In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba's future will be forged."

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