With Havana trip, Obama seeks to make history, lock in Cuba opening
By Matt Spetalnick, Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - Barack Obama's historic visit to Havana next week may be the closest he comes to a Nixon-goes-to-China moment, but he also has another more practical goal: to make his opening to Cuba irreversible for the next U.S. president.
The Obama administration hopes that getting more U.S. companies invested in Cuba and loosening up travel to the island will make it almost impossible for traditionally pro-business Republicans to halt or even roll back the thaw in relations if they win the White House in November.
Ahead of his March 20-22 trip to Havana, the stage is set for a further easing of trade restrictions and a string of business announcements from the hotel and telecommunications industries and possibly even Major League Baseball.
"The administration wants to do as much as it can unilaterally before the clock runs out," said a person who has been briefed on Obama's strategy.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether Obama can prod Cuba's prickly Communist government to reciprocate at least with modest economic reforms that would help ensure his policy sticks.
Cuba's leaders have been slow to loosen their grip on the island's state-run economy. That plus strict limits that remain under the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has made many American firms wary.
Obama's critics accuse him of giving up too much in return for too little from Cuban President Raul Castro and now taking a premature "victory lap."
But administration officials says deeper U.S. engagement should not be contingent on concessions from the former Cold War foe, such as improving its human rights record. Continuación...