Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio blasted the US policy with Cuba on 18 February, hours after it was announced President Barack Obama would travel there in March to speed the thaw in relations with the island nation. Rubio and rival Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz are both the sons of Cuban immigrants and have criticized Obama for renewing ties with Cuba.

"I've said repeatedly, I'd love the US relationship with Cuba to change, but it can't be one-sided. My problem with the changes toward Cuba is it asks nothing of the Cuban government. They are as repressive today as they have ever been," Rubio told reporters in Anderson, South Carolina. "It has to be both sides changing and the Cuban government isn't changing so that's the wrong approach," he added.

In the first US presidential trip to the Caribbean nation in nearly 90 years, Obama will meet Cuban President Raul Castro, entrepreneurs, and "Cubans from different walks of life" during the trip on 21-22 March, the White House said.

After decades of animosity following Cuba's 1959 revolution, the two countries agreed in 2014 to move to reopen ties. It was a diplomatic feat that is likely to be a highlight of Obama's foreign policy legacy along with the reaching of a nuclear deal with another long-time US foe, Iran. Although the US economic embargo on Cuba remains in place, a presidential visit carries huge symbolic value and prestige.