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Obama: 'Change is going to happen' in Cuba

Obama has advocated for democratic reforms in Cuba, on the first visit by a sitting US president since 1928. Monday's meeting with Castro may get heated, as Obama told US television that he would push for more reforms.

During a historic visit to Cuba, US President Barack Obama on Monday said he would discuss the human rights situation in the communist nation with Cuban President Raul Castro, saying Havana was "stifling dissent."

"Change is going to happen here and I think that Raul Castro understands that," the president told David Muir of US channel ABC television. "But what we have seen is the reopening of the embassy and although we still have significant differences around human rights and individual liberties inside of Cuba, we felt that coming now would maximize our ability to prompt more change."

Obama on Monday became the first sitting US president to visit the island in 88 years.

In December 2014, both Obama and Castro announced they would begin normalizing relations, which led to Washington re-opening its embassy in Cuba in 2015.

Cuba, meanwhile, has complained ahead of the visit about continued US economic sanctions, which can only be lifted with the approval of the Republican-controlled Congress. Obama has since sought to use his executive authority to loosen trade restrictions on the Caribbean island, having failed in efforts to convince Congress to rescind the sanctions.

Tough talks?

Washington cut diplomatic ties with Cuba after Raul's brother Fidel Castro led an armed insurgency against the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista, ousting him in 1959.

Fidel established a single-party system that dominated the country's political scene and established a Soviet-style economy. In 2015, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said "freedom of information is extremely limited in Cuba," ranking the country 169 out of 180 on its press freedom index.

"There's no doubt that the Cuban government is still a one-party state that's exerting control and that's stifling dissent," Obama said in the ABC interview.

The president expected to meet with his counterpart Castro to push for economic and political reforms, including opening the political landscape to critics and opposition parties.

Watch video 02:01

A new era for Cuban-American relations | DW

ls/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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