REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's conservative President Felipe Calderon will make his first official visit to Cuba next week, a long-delayed effort to improve relations between the two governments.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry notified the Senate that Calderon plans to travel to Cuba, Haiti and then Cartagena, Colombia -- that final stop for the Summit of the Americas to be attended by President Obama and all the countries of the region, except Cuba.
Calderon will be in Havana on April 11 and 12, diplomatic sources said. It is believed he will meet with President Raul Castro but it was unclear whether he would also be received by ailing former leader Fidel Castro.
Mexico and Cuba under Fidel Castro enjoyed friendly ties for years, until the 2000 election of Calderon's conservative National Action Party and then-President Vicente Fox. With Fox at the Mexican helm and deep on a mission to move closer to then-U.S. President George W. Bush, the relationship with Havana suffered one contretemps after another.
Mexico supported a United Nations resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record in 2002, and Fox that year told Fidel Castro that he could attend the opening of a summit in Mexico, have a meal, but then should leave before Bush arrived. The incident became known here popularly as the "you eat, you go" slap at Castro.
The low point probably came in 2004, when Mexico briefly withdrew its ambassador to Cuba and expelled Havana's envoy here.
Although Mexico remains one of Washington's staunchest allies in Latin America, Calderon in 2008 finally began to mend the ties, meeting with Raul Castro at another regional gathering in Brazil. But his often-stated intention to visit the island nation had never been realized.
In its notification to the Senate -- required under Mexican law any time the president leaves the country -- the government said the Cuba trip was aimed at "deepening the dialogue" over issues that include investment and oil exploration as well as migration and human rights.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: President Obama listens while Mexican President Felipe Calderon speaks during a White House news conference in Washington on Monday. Credit: Chris Kleponis / Bloomberg.