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Obama faces tough balance on historic trip to Cuba

by Take Two®

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Tourists walk next to a poster of Cuban President Raul Castro and President Obama ahead of the U.S. leader's visit. Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama faces a tough balancing act in Cuba, as he marks the first visit from a sitting U.S. President in nearly 9 decades. His message is about hope and the future, but there are still deep concerns about human rights and the treatment of dissident voices in the country.

"Looking back on it, people will compare it to President Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972 that really marked a fundamental shift in U.S. attitudes towards China," said William LeoGrande, professor of Government at American University in Washington DC and co-author of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. "President Obama is undertaking exactly the same kind of fundamental shift in our relationship with Cuba."

That shift could present new opportunities for US-based businesses. And in California, that could mean a chance for the tech center to find a new market, said LeoGrande.

"The Cubans are hoping to become an information technology center themselves," he said. "[They] see it as a way to take advantage of the high level of education of the Cuban population."

After meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro today, President Obama is scheduled to meet with human rights activists Tuesday and attend a baseball game with the Tampa Bay Rays going up against Cuba's national team.

Obama's trip may also be particularly poignant for Afro-Cubans. About 10 percent of the country's residents identify as black. For many of them, the president's presence isn't just a political victory – it's social triumph as well.

Cuban culture is diverse and complex, said Odette Casamayor, associate professor of Latin American Culture at the University of Connecticut.

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