Castro, speech, dissidents, baseball and business to highlight Obama’s Cuba trip
Castro, speech, dissidents, baseball and business to highlight Obama’s
MARCH 16, 2016 9:28 PM
President Obama will visit Cuba Sunday through Tuesday
He will meet with Raúl Castro and also dissidents
His speech will be addressed to Cubans on the island and Cuban-Americans
AND NORA GAMEZ TORRES
Some 1,000 people are expected at Havana’s Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso for
the most important speech of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to
Cuba. He will speak directly to the Cuban people about the complicated
history of U.S.-Cuba relations, as well as his vision for the future.
Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack
Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore
full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies. Video courtesy
Obama heads to Cuba on Sunday on the first trip by a sitting U.S.
president to the island in nearly 90 years. The last American president
to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge, who arrived in a battleship.
“We see the speech as a unique moment, obviously, in the history of our
two countries,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and one
of the architects of the new Cuba policy, said Wednesday. The speech
will be addressed to both Cubans on the island and the Cuban diaspora.
On Wednesday, Obama met at the White House with a group of 16 Cuban
Americans to hear their views on the issues they thought should be
stressed during his visit. They included Emilio Estefan; healthcare
executive Mike Fernandez; Jorge Mas, chairman of MasTec and the Cuban
American National Foundation; Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuban
Study Group; Silvia Wilhelm, executive director of Puentos Cubanos;
former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez; and Ric Herrero of CubaNow.
Rhodes said the president hopes his words reach a broad spectrum of
Cuban society. “We have not had any resistance from the Cubans to the
notion that his speech be broadcast,” he said. Rhodes pointed out that
on Dec. 17, 2014 — the day that Cuban leader Raúl Castro and Obama
announced that the two countries were working toward normalization —
Obama’s speech was broadcast in Cuba.
The United States plans to invite several hundred guests — the large
U.S. delegation, students and young people, Cuban Americans, and “a much
larger number of Cubans of various walks of life” to the speech, Rhodes
said. The Cuban government also will be inviting its own guests.
“Of all the things the president is doing on this trip, in many ways,
what he is able to say to the Cuban people is certainly as important as
anything else that he is doing,” Rhodes said.
The president will be discussing “the future that we would wish for the
Cuban people,” Rhodes said.
But he added: “Ultimately, he will make clear that that’s for the Cuban
people to decide. The United States is not going to dictate change in
Cuba or dictate outcomes in Cuba. But we have great confidence in the
ability of the Cuban people to do extraordinary things.”
Another event on the president’s agenda that will be closely watched in
Miami is his Tuesday civil society meeting, which will include prominent
dissidents. The White House did not release their names, but several
dissidents confirmed they were invited to the event at the U.S. Embassy
José Daniel Ferrer, general coordinator of the dissident group Unión
Patriótica de Cuba, said he would be taking part. Berta Soler, leader of
the Ladies in White, and Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de Sats,
said they had been invited but haven’t yet decided whether they will attend.
The invitation list appears to include dissidents and activists with
various points of view on the Obama policy of engagement. While the
president has said he wants to work with Congress to lift the embargo,
both Soler and Rodiles think it should remain in place.
Manuel Cuesta Morúa, leader of Arco Progresista, a social democratic
party; Convivencia magazine director Dagoberto Valdés; blogger Yoani
Sánchez; and activist Guillermo Fariñas also were among the invitees,
according to Ferrer.
The Cuban government also freed four dissidents — Niorvis Rivera Guerra
and Aracelio Riviaux Noa, members of the Unión Patriótica; Vladimir
Morera Bacallao; and Jorge Ramírez Calderón — who had been jailed since
2015, Ferrer said. They were part of a group of 53 political prisoners
Cuba freed during the rapprochement process, but they were rearrested.
The four traveled to the United States on Tuesday along with a fifth
activist, Yohannes Arce Sarmiento, according to Ferrer.
“On the trip, we wanted to make sure the president would have the
opportunity to engage broadly with not just the government but also the
Cuban people,” Rhodes said.
Other highlights of the president’s trip to Cuba include:
? He is scheduled to meet with Raúl Castro on Monday in a session during
which he “will be very candid about areas of disagreement,” Rhodes said.
He will also review the progress in the new U.S.-Cuba relationship; the
regulatory changes the United States has taken and what steps Cuba might
take to take advantage of them; and regional issues such as the Colombia
Obama intends to discuss human rights and “our support for universal
values in Cuba and around the world,” Rhodes said.
The day concludes with a state dinner at the Revolutionary Palace.
? The first family, including Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia,
and the president’s mother-in-law Marian Robinson will all make the trip.
? Obama will attend sessions on entrepreneurship Monday in which
American executives, Cuban Americans, Cuban entrepreneurs and government
representatives will discuss how they might cooperate. Cuba’s budding
entrepreneurial sector is an area “of the Cuban economy and society that
holds enormous potential,” Rhodes said.
“We believe that greater economic activity on the island is going to be
good for the Cuban people. It’s going to be a source of empowerment for
them. It’s going to improve their livelihoods,” he said.
? The president isn’t expected to throw out the first pitch at the Tampa
Bay Rays vs. Cuban national team baseball game on Tuesday, but he’ll be
? He will not be meeting with Fidel Castro. “Neither we nor the Cubans
have pursued such a meeting,” Rhodes said.
? The president will meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who played a
go-between role in the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.
That meeting in Old Havana will take place shortly after the first
family’s arrival on Sunday afternoon.
? The first lady plans to meet with high school girls and pose questions
about life in Cuba that were submitted by U.S. students.
“I’d say there’s great anticipation here for the visit. The enthusiasm
that we saw on Dec. 17, 2014, it feels like it’s just been growing ever
since, and that’s what we’re feeling here now,” said Jeffrey
DeLaurentis, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.
On Tuesday afternoon, Obama leaves for Argentina, where he’ll meet with
President Mauricio Macri at the Casa Rosada before winding up his Latin
American trip on Thursday.
Source: Castro, speech, dissidents, baseball and business to highlight
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