Kerry plans to go to Cuba for talks on human rights

US Secretary of State John Kerry says he plans to go to Cuba for talks on human rights

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on February 23, 2016.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he plans to travel to Cuba in the "next week or two" for talks on human rights.

Kerry, who went to Cuba last August to raise the US flag over the reopened American embassy, acknowledged to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States still has concerns about the human rights situation there.

"I may be down there in the next week or two to have a human rights dialogue, specifically," he said.

That would put Kerry on the communist-ruled island just ahead of US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who announced plans last week to visit Cuba March 21-22.

"The president hopes to press forward on the agenda of speaking to the people of Cuba about the future and obviously he is anxious to press on the rights of people to be able to demonstrate, to have democracy, to be free, to be able to speak and hang a sign in their window without being put in jail for several years," Kerry said.

The last American leader to visit Cuba while in office was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

Obama and President Raul Castro surprised the world in December 2014 by agreeing to restore relations that had been severed for more than half a century.

Diplomatic relations were formally restored on July 20, 2015.

Obama on Saturday touted the opening as "a new chapter in our relationship."

"I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement —- by normalising relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples," Obama said in his weekly radio address.