Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people.— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016
OBAMA SAYS CUBA VISIT WILL BOOST EFFORTS TO RESTORE US TIES
Here's how we're looking at the road ahead: https://t.co/a0KcsmpF39— President Obama (@POTUS) February 18, 2016
The announcement has received backlash from conservatives, such as Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American.
"I think it's a real mistake. I think the president ought to instead be pushing for a free Cuba," Cruz said Thursday on CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall in Greenville, S.C.
REPORTER NOTEBOOK: STEVE DANIELS IN CUBA
ABC11'S STEVE DANIELS FIRST DAY IN CUBA FOR HISTORIC POPE VISIT
Alonso Sama is a Cuban expat and owner of the Morrisville restaurant, Carmen's Cuba Cafe. The 75-year-old said he escaped Cuba in 1962 after becoming a political prisoner when he was 18, for speaking out against Fidel Castro's communist regime.
"I was in jail in Cuba because my mouth against the government. I spent almost a year in jail," Sama said.
Despite his strong anti-communist sentiment, Sama said he is happy about President Obama's announcement, and thinks the influx of new commerce and communication will inspire the free Cuba that Cruz talks about.
"It's very good because the people are suffering. Not Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, they're not suffering. They have food all day long, they have medicine, but the regular people like me in Cuba they don't, and they're depending on people in the United States to help them," Sama said.
"The communist ... it will take care of itself when the young people, they will see the information they have, how the people outside Cuba live, and they will overthrow whatever is going on over there," he added.
He said he can't wait to go back to go back to Cuba himself, and visit his native Havana this summer, which he hasn't seen since he was 19 years old.
"I'm going to take my kids -- I've got five of them -- see where I'm born, and visit the tomb of my father that is still there," Sama said.
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