MIAMI – Cuba will change of its own accord and the United States will scarcely aid this process of transition, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama said on Friday.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes traveled to Miami to meet with the Cuban exile community days before Obama’s March 21-22 visit to the Communist-ruled island.
The U.S. government will continue to champion democracy and human rights in Cuba, he said.
Rhodes said that following the normalization of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, the U.S. is in a better position to influence an improvement of human rights on the island while fostering trade, among other advantages.
“We have a lot of confidence in the Cuban people,” he said. “Our policy is rooted in the confidence we have in the Cuban people.”
Rhodes said Obama will meet with dissidents during his trip to the island and that the opposition movement Ladies in White is the kind of organization to which the U.S. Embassy in Havana will send invitations, though he did not state specifically that this group would be one of them.
Cubans in Miami opposed to the president’s trip to the island denounced the U.S. government’s lack of clarity when it came to explaining exactly which members of the dissidence will meet with Obama.
Nonetheless, Rhodes said he will meet this Friday with dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, currently in Miami after receiving permission from the Cuban government to leave the island just this once.
The White House adviser said his goal is to have the group of dissidents meeting with Obama represent conflicting points of view, so that it includes those who support reestablishing relations and ending the embargo, as well as those who reject normalization, since that will be a useful learning experience.
He recognized that the Obama administration has no illusions that the tensions between the two countries will disappear, but did consider that this opening will contribute to the defense of human rights.
“This was not an easy call for the president politically,” Rhodes said. “I was able to say to him, ‘There is a community of people who will support this, and they will speak out for it, and a lot of this is young people.’”
Rhodes confirmed the existing limits on the Miami press traveling to the island to cover the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in 80 years, but said they are working to have that restriction removed.
He also said the talks began in 2013 with the initiative to free U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was finally returned to the United States on Dec. 17, 2014, the date on which Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the renewal of diplomatic relations.
The U.S. president is not expected to meet with Fidel Castro – Raul’s older brother – during his visit, Rhodes said.