By Beatriz Juez
HAVANA TIMES — President Barack Obama will deliver a speech Tuesday at the Havana Grand Theater as part of his historic visit to Cuba, informed the White House on Wednesday.
The US government expects the intervention to be broadcast by Cuban state television, reported dpa news.
“This will be a speech to the Cuban people. Cubans want to hear what the president has to say,” said Ben Rhodes, adviser to the White House who took part in the secret talks that led to rapprochement between the two countries. He said that the Cuban Government has thus far voiced no objection to televising the address.
Obama will arrive on Sunday to Havana for a three-day visit to the island, considered a milestone, eight months after the formal resumption of diplomatic relations.
The president will be accompanied by his wife, Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia and Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson. The trip is the first by a US president to Cuba in 88 years.
Besides his talks with President Raul Castro, Obama’s agenda includes meeting with political dissidents, assured the White House. The names of the opponents who will attend the encounter with Obama have not been released.
“The president’s visit is an important step forward in the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba,” said the charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, in a telephone conversation with journalists. “It marks the beginning of a new era between our two countries and our two peoples,” the diplomat added.
The Obama Program for March 20-22
Obama will arrive in Cuba on Sunday afternoon, March 20th. The meeting with Raul Castro is scheduled for Monday. The White House denied that the US president will visit former President Fidel Castro.
“He will not meet with Fidel Castro. Neither we nor the Cubans have sought this meeting. He will meet with Raul Castro, who is the president of Cuba,” said Rhodes.
Another highlight of Obama’s visit to Cuba will be an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team on Tuesday, which the president will attend.
“Baseball is something that Americans and Cubans share and is part of our cultural heritage and, frankly, it’s the kind of exchanges that we seek,” said Rhodes.
The president will begin his visit on Sunday with a walk through Old Havana, where he will visit the Cathedral. He will meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who supported pope Francis who mediated the secret negotiations that led to the surprise diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana in December 2014.
The official events begin on Monday. Obama will meet with Raul Castro after depositing a wreath at the statue of Cuban national hero Jose Marti in the Plaza of the Revolution, as is customary in diplomatic protocol.
The meeting between Castro and Obama will serve to “review the progress made in the normalization of relations, addressing the areas where our governments have been able to initiate bilateral cooperation of our mutual interest and be very candid about the areas where there are disagreements, including human rights, “said the Obama adviser.
The president will also hold a meeting on Monday with young Cuban entrepreneurs. The White House has said repeatedly that its new policy of dialogue aims to support the emerging private sector on the island. In recent years, the government of Raul Castro has opened limited spaces for private initiative, after decades of state monopoly.
On Monday night Obama is invited to a state dinner at the Palace of the Revolution.
Obama’s address to Cubans is scheduled for Tuesday at the recently restored Gran Teatro de La Habana in the center of the Cuban capital. The White House considers the speech a key moment of the visit.
Obama will address “the complicated history between the two countries and the reasons that led to take the steps we take, especially that of December 17 (2014),” said Rhodes.
The president will also present his ideas on how the United States and Cuba “can work together and how Cubans can achieve a better life.” After the speech Obams is scheduled to meeting with a group of dissidents.
Upon concluding his visit to Cuba, Obama will travel to Buenos Aires for an official visit to Argentina on March 23-24.
Obama is the first president (in office) of the United States to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Former president James Carter visited the island twice in 2002 and 2011.
Washington and Havana resumed diplomatic relations in July, 2015. The official ties were broken off in 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.