The Cuban Foreign Ministry's head of U.S. affairs Josefina Vidal attends a press conference at the Cuban Foreign Ministry headquarters in Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 18, 2016. (Xinhua/Jorge Perez/PRENSA LATINA)
U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Cuba in March, the White House announced Thursday, marking the latest effort to push forward the policy shift spearheaded by his administration just over a year ago.
Yet, in an election year adding urgency and uncertainty to his diplomatic endeavors, Obama's decision to visit Cuba with only 11 months left in office is seen as another wishful approach to seal a foreign policy legacy.
Also, Obama's endeavor on Cuba is compromised by the U.S. economic embargo in place on Havana for decades and that only Congress has authority to lift, experts say.
POLITICAL LEGACY IN FOCUS
The White House said Obama and the first lady will visit Cuba on March 21-22, calling the trip "historic" and the first by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years.
The visit "is another demonstration of the President's commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations," the White House said in a statement.
However, words of his travel plans immediately drew doubts and resistance from opponents of warmer ties with Cuba, including Republican presidential candidates.
Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, raised questions about Obama's intention.
"This visit is about the President's vanity and search for a legacy, not about freedom and human rights for the people of Cuba," he wrote in a blog post. "And that's a disgrace."
He said the real effect of the Obama "opening" is an increase in the flow of funds to the Cuba government through tourism and business with state-owned companies.
"Why is the President visiting, given the lack of change?" Abrams wrote. "Because he cannot resist the photo op with Fidel Castro. It's as simple as that."
This view resonates with Chu Gang, a researcher at the Beijing-based independent think tank Center for China and Globalization. Obama's upcoming visit to Cuba is not a hasty arrangement, he told Xinhua.
Obama is aimed at building a political legacy and also scoring extra points for his fellow Democrats in the election year, Chu said.
A slew of Republicans, including two leading Republican presidential contenders whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the United States, sharply criticized Obama's travel plan.
Senator Marco Rubio said that normalizing relations simply gave Cuba millions if not billions of dollars in new resources.
Rubio called the Cuba government "anti-American," saying that he wanted the bilateral relationship to change but it has to be reciprocal.
"I was saddened to hear, but I wasn't surprised," Senator Ted Cruz said about the planned visit, adding that Obama is going "to essentially act as an apologist."
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, also a Republican presidential contender, is equally harsh. "Well, it's a tragedy in my mind that we have diplomatic realtions and the president's trying to build a legacy here," Bush told Fox News.