President Barack Obama will visit Cuba next month, a senior administration official said Wednesday night.
The White House is expected to announce the trip to Latin America, including Cuba, on Thursday.
The long-anticipated visit comes more than a year after the Obama administration began to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014. The visit was first reported by ABC News.
The move was sharply panned by Republican presidential candidates Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are of Cuban descent, while campaigning in South Carolina Wednesday night.
Rubio said he wouldn't travel to the country unless it was a free country. “It's not just a communist dictatorship, it's an anti-American communist dictatorship,” he told CNN during a town hall. He accused its government of helping North Korea evade U.N. sanctions and providing a safe haven for American fugitives.
“Beyond that, they are a repressive regime,” he said. “There's no election in Cuba. There is no choice in Cuba.”
He said the U.S. has opened up to other countries, including Myanmar, but the countries made political changes that Obama did not ask of Cuba. "A year and two months after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as oppressive as ever," he said.
Cruz said he wouldn't visit as president "as long as the Castros are in power."
He said there were parallels between Obama's Cuba policy and his Iran deal "where he's allowing billions of dollars to go to tyrants who hate America, who are state sponsors of terrorism, who are fighting against our nation."
He called it a "real mistake" to "go there and essentially act as an apologist."
He said his family had seen "firsthand the evil and the oppression in Cuba. And we need to have a president that stands up to our enemies."
In recent months, the American embassy was reopened in Havanna and several administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and transportation chief Anthony Foxx, have traveled to the island.
Travel restrictions have been loosened and just last week, U.S. airlines began to secure routes to the island after the nations signed an agreement to resume flights between Cuba and the United States.