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Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake to join President Obama, first lady on historic Cuba trip

PHOENIX — Arizona Senator Jeff Flake will be joining President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on a historic visit to Cuba this week.

The trip marks the first time a sitting president will set foot in Cuba in nine decades. Obama said he will use the trip as an opportunity to advance relations with the nation and lock in his administration’s sharp reversal of policy.

Flake said he hopes there will be more announcements of American businesses being established in the Caribbean country.

“We just had the announcement of the direct scheduled flights, and this all improves the economic conditions in Cuba for ordinary citizens,” he said.

The American and Arizona leaders are planning to meet with Cuban officials, including Raul Castro. Flake said critics who claim America is embracing a Communist country by establishing relations with Cuba are wrong.

“We’re not embracing Cuba,” he said. “We’re actually, finally, imposing a get tough policy, because we’re going to expose them to American values and commerce.”

Flake said he hopes the Cuban trip will inspire the country’s leaders to adopt policies that help it move closer to a more capitalist society and help Arizonans realize what a Communist country is truly like.

“(They can see) what happens when the government controls not just the commanding heights of the economy, but the entire economy,” he said. “It’s a pretty sobering thought. For those who value socialism, or want to move closer to socialism, that’s a pretty good deterrent.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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