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President Obama's Latin America Trip Will Include A Stop In Cuba


President Obama and the first lady will travel to Cuba next month, the White House announced this morning. It will be the first visit by a sitting U.S. president in 88 years, and will carry enormous symbolism in a country that has long been isolated. Just over one year ago, President Obama began the process of allowing U.S. companies to do business in Cuba. Most dramatically, the American flag was raised last August as the American embassy reopened in Havana. Joining us now is Patrick Oppmann. He's the only American TV correspondent based in Havana working for CNN. Good morning.

PATRICK OPPMANN: Good morning to you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now the word is out, but probably just getting out about Obama's visit there in Cuba. Have you seen any reaction yet?

OPPMANN: Oh yeah, there has been a reaction. You know, some - it's really the biggest story in Cuba in many months, and it still hasn't been reported by the island's state-run media. I'm sure that'll change in the coming hours. But Cubans are only finding out about it by - through foreigners who've got Internet connections, which many Cubans don't have, or people who've got illegal satellite dishes. And there is, as you'd expect, a tremendous amount of excitement.

MONTAGNE: Well, one thing. The U.S. still does have a trade embargo against Cuba, which cannot be lifted without congressional approval. Would there be any sense with this visit there that it is really just symbolic?

OPPMANN: Well, it's a lot of symbolism. And President Obama has called for the trade embargo to be lifted. You'd certainly expect that he would do that again in Cuba. And so that's what the Cuban government - certainly Cuban officials that I've talked to get out of this. And for a country that until recently was considered isolated - it was U.S. policy to isolate this country - to have this kind of visit is somewhat unimaginable. You know, we've heard about it for months but last night, when word finally leaked out and it was confirmed, Cubans just seemed stunned. Most Cubans that I've talked to - the majority of Cubans, of course, were born after Fidel Castro took power - never thought they would live to see the day that a U.S. president would visit their island on this kind of visit, really heralding a change in relations, although President Obama says still, serious differences remain between the U.S. and Cuban governments that he plans on addressing.

MONTAGNE: Well - and even so, though, President Obama is not the only one visiting. He said in this announcement today that more Americans are traveling to Cuba than in any time in the last 50 years, taking advantage of loosening of travel restrictions. What have you seen?

OPPMANN: Oh, you know, I've been here for four years, and it used to be you were an incredible rarity, something almost exotic by being here as an American. And Americans were prosecuted by previous administrations for coming to Cuba. There's still a ban on tourism. All the same, the streets of old Havana are clogged with American visitors now, and it's only beginning because very soon, we expect there will be once again, for the first time in five decades, regular direct flights between Cuba and the United States. And that will make it much, much easier for Americans to come here, and we expect a huge surge - an even bigger surge of American visitors.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us.

OPPMANN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Patrick Oppmann is the CNN correspondent in Havana, Cuba, and he spoke to us from Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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