After weeks of speculation, President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he will skip his planned trip to Havana, Cuba, as he seeks to distance himself from his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The president, who made the announcement at a White House ceremony with Cuban President Raul Castro, said the decision came as a surprise to him and to the Cuban people.
“When you have a leader that’s so deeply unpopular, he’s not supposed to be there,” Trump said.
The White House did not say what Trump meant by the Cuban leader’s comments about him.
Obama and Castro met for more than four hours in April 2015 as the two countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Trump was the first sitting president to visit Cuba since it fell to Castro in 1961.
He had called the communist-run island a “very special place” before leaving the White House in January.
The announcement came amid a national conversation on how to best address Cuba’s worsening problems with violence and drugs.
President Trump and Cuba’s President Rene Prez, left, walk after a meeting at the White Senate in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2021.
Rene Preza, Cuban leader, shakes hands with Trump as he speaks during a joint press conference in Havana, Sunday, March 12, 2021, following a meeting with Trump and Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Trump is scheduled to return to Cuba next month for a state visit.
Cuban President Río Pérez, left and President Donald Trumps hands, speak during a news conference at the presidential palace in Havana on March 15.
Péres trip to Washington on March 14 was billed as a trip to promote bilateral relations between the two nations.
A young girl holds a poster reading “Havana, Fidel!” as she walks in front of the presidential palatial mansion, during a meeting of the Havana City Council in Havana.
Trump and his wife, Melania, arrived at the Palace of the Revolution for the start of a state trip, which the United States has dubbed a “historic” trip to the island.
(AP Photo/Carlos Barria) A member of the media is silhouetted in Havana City, Cuba March 15 2021, ahead of the arrival of President Donald T. Trump, Jr. on a visit to the city to visit the Cuban National Museum, in Havana.(AP Photo / Carlos Barria, File) Cubans carry flags as they march in solidarity with the people of Cuba against the arrest of Cuban President Raúl Castro, at the Presidential Palace in Havana March 15 1921.(AP Photos/Carlo de Jesus)Cuban women wave their flag at a parade marking the 50 years since the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, in front to the Palace in Cuba, March 16, 2021.(AP photo/Carlol Dominguez)Cubans wear their traditional masks as they celebrate the 50-year anniversary of their country’s liberation from the US in Havana (AP Photo)The visit comes as Trump seeks to portray himself as a leader who has restored normal relations between his administration and the island, while Obama has maintained the opposite.
In a statement, Trump said he is “not a fan” of Castro’s regime, but that the United State will continue to work with the Cuban government to combat drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism.
“Our relationship with Cuba is one of the greatest in the world and I have been very pleased with how they have dealt with our country, both in terms of the trade and the relationship, which has been tremendous,” Trump added.
While Trump’s announcement did not specify what his planned visit will be, the Cuban news agency the Associated Press reported he would attend a summit of business leaders and trade negotiators from the United Nations.
Trump has also taken to Twitter to say he will meet with Cuban leaders next week to discuss the trade agreement.
At a news briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration will not be discussing the specifics of the talks but would “make it clear that the U.S. will not stand by while the Cuban regime fails to protect its people and freedoms.”
Trump, however, has been criticized for his stance on Castro, which includes his refusal to back his brother, former President Fidel, in the failed bid for the 2016 U.N. election and his refusal during the 2016 presidential campaign to release his long-held, secret phone call with the president’s longtime political adviser, Roger Stone.