WASHINGTON – The U.S. government will be represented at a memorial service for Cuba’s Fidel Castro, but not by a “presidential delegation,” the White House said on Tuesday.
The deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, will join U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis in Havana for the ceremony Tuesday evening, spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The White House said Monday that neither President Barack Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden would attend the funeral of the former Cuban leader, who died on Nov. 25 at the age of 90.
“The president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today,” Earnest said during Tuesday’s press briefing.
“Those of you who have been following this story closely over the last couple of years know that Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago,” the spokesman said. “He has been the principle interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully.”
A score of heads of state, most of them from Latin America, will be present for Tuesday’s event in the Plaza de la Revolucion.
In December 2014, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro – Fidel’s younger brother – made simultaneous speeches announcing a normalization of ties more than 50 years after Washington broke diplomatic relations with Havana.
That announcement followed some 18 months of secret talks between Rhodes and senior Cuban officials.
“There are many aspects of the U.S.-Cuba relationship that were characterized by a lot of conflict and turmoil – not just during the Castro regime, but we continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people,” Earnest said Tuesday when asked about the decision not to send a presidential delegation.
“So, we believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing, future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people, and this was an appropriate way to show respect ... while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries,” the spokesman said.