March 4, 2016 at 12:19 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
John Kerry cancels planned trip to Cuba

John Kerry, gay news, Washington Blade, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit

Secretary of State John Kerry has cancelled his planned trip to Cuba this month. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry has cancelled his planned trip to Cuba that was to have taken place this month.

The Los Angeles Times on Thursday reported disagreements between the U.S. and Cuba over which dissidents with whom Kerry would meet on the Communist island factored into the decision. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are scheduled to travel to Cuba on March 21.

“We have no updates with respect to potential travel by Secretary Kerry to Cuba,” said State Department spokesperson John Kirby in a statement. “The secretary is still interested in visiting in the near future, and we are working with our Cuban counterparts and our embassy to determine the best timeframe.”

The Obama administration in 2014 announced the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba that ended in 1961. Critics contend the island’s human rights record has not improved despite the closer ties between it and the White House.

“Since December 17, 2014, we have seen a massive increase of Cubans desperately leaving the island in order to seek refuge in the United States and a continual systemic harassment of the Cuban people who seek freedom and democracy,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in a statement she released after news that Kerry had cancelled his trip to Cuba broke. “I hope that President Obama sees the folly of his visit which legitimizes the oppressive Castro regime and cancels his visit, which only gives the oppressors the green light to continue repressing those who seek their fundamental human rights.”

Bowser meets with Cuban president’s daughter in Havana

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was among the local officials who traveled to Cuba last month as part of a Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce delegation.

Bowser during the trip met with Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues on the island as the director of the National Center for Sexual Education. Bowser presented Mariela Castro with a Washington Nationals jersey.

Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, an independent advocacy group, told the Washington Blade in response to Bowser’s visit to the National Center for Sexual Education that he was “offended that Mariela Castro continues receiving visits from U.S. officials.” Gandulla continues to urge Obama and Kerry to meet with him and other independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates when they travel to the island.

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Nelson Gandulla Díaz, president of the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, stands outside his home in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on May 15, 2015, after he and his colleagues spoke with the Washington Blade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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