WASHINGTON – U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver a speech to the Cuban people during his historic visit next week to the Communist-ruled island, according to the White House, which said the address in Havana would be a “very important moment” of his three-day stay.
The White House hopes the speech at the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso will be broadcast live on Cuban television and radio, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, Ben Rhodes, said Wednesday in a press call to preview the president’s upcoming travel to Cuba and Argentina.
He noted that thus far the Cuban government had offered no “objections” to that idea.
Obama, who will arrive in Cuba on Sunday evening, will be accompanied on his two-nation tour by his wife, Michelle; his daughters, Sasha and Malia; and his mother-in-law, Marian Shields Robinson, Rhodes said.
He added that the president would hold a bilateral meeting on Monday with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, using that opportunity to review the “progress made on the normalization of relations,” a process that began in December 2014, and “be very candid about areas of disagreement, including the human rights practices that have concerned us in Cuba.”
A press conference will follow, according to Rhodes, who ruled out any possibility that Obama would meet during his visit with Fidel Castro, saying that was not something the United States or Cuba had pursued.
Meanwhile, several Cuban dissidents told EFE Wednesday that they had been invited to a high-level meeting with Obama at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Tuesday, March 22.
Among those receiving the invitation via phone were the leader of the opposition group Ladies in White, Berta Soler; former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, who heads the Patriotic Union of Cuba; and independent journalist Miriam Leiva, the dissidents said.
Also Wednesday, Obama met at the White House with Cuban-American activists and religious and business leaders in advance of his Cuba visit.
They discussed the process of normalizing relations with the island, as well as the latest regulatory changes effected by the Treasury and Commerce Departments and the “impact they would have on the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba and engage directly with the Cuban people,” the White House said.
“He told us he would talk about human rights in Cuba and made clear he would present his vision for a better tomorrow for the Cuban people and the two countries,” Ric Herrero, the executive director of #CubaNow, a Miami-based organization that strongly supports the recent thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, told EFE by phone.