White House adviser: Obama may invoke Cuban exiles in Havana
The White House aide who’s helping Obama write his historic Havana
speech visited Miami soliciting advice
Ben Rhodes revealed Obama would be traveling with four Cabinet members —
and the first lady
Dissidents who flew in from the island were among those Rhodes met with
BY CAROL ROSENBERG
Expect President Barack Obama to invoke the ingenuity and success of
Cuban-American exiles in his address later this month in Havana, a key
White House aide said in Miami on Friday during a listening tour ahead
of the president’s historic three-day trip to Cuba.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said there’s no agreement
yet on whether state-run Cuban radio will broadcast Obama’s speech in
Cuba, a first by an American president since the 1959 revolution. But
Rhodes, a sometimes speechwriter for the president, said he has a role
in the address, which is being influenced by his talks with South
“I’ve been struck by how much that speech is a focus for people,” said
Rhodes, who spent the day in downtown Miami, mostly on the Miami Dade
College campus, inviting input and trying to assure anxious or angry
exiles ahead of the president’s March 20-22 visit to Havana.
He held a succession of meetings, many closed, with students, activists,
journalists and religious and community leaders, where he reminded them
that the White House goal isn’t to topple the Castro government but to
open up society through renewed diplomatic relations, trade and other ties.
Of the speech, he said, “There has not been an opportunity for an
American president to stand in Cuba, in Havana, and speak to the Cuban
people, and to speak to the Cuban people in Cuba and in the United
States. We feel that weight.”
So he laid out several themes to expect in the speech, from “some
reckoning with history” to “the history and example of the
Cuban-American people and the success they have had here in Miami and
across the country.”
The two sides have not yet settled on a site for the speech. Rhodes,
however, predicted the venue would be indoors, citing logistics and
security reasons, and setting to rest the possibility that he would
follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis’ September visit. The pontiff
did his open-air Mass in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución — with a huge
portrait of Che Guevara staring down.
“I think he’ll want to speak to a very complicated history that kind of
led us to where we are today,” said Rhodes. “How do we find ourselves at
this moment. Some of that history is a powerful and positive shared
experience. But some of it is a very painful and complicated and
In one meeting hosted by Cuban American National Foundation chairman
Jorge Mas Santos, Rhodes huddled with critics of the regime. “We are one
people,” Mas declared, once journalists were allowed inside to listen.
“Do not allow the regime to marginalize us.”
In the room at the time were dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, in town for
just a few days, as well as Santiago Province activist Carlos Amiel
Oliva Torres of the Union Patriotic de Cuba, and Leticia Ramos of the
Ladies in White, both of whom arrived in Miami on Thursday and were
returning to the island Saturday.
Rhodes cast the speech as proposing a vision for future relations
between the two countries and the two peoples. “He’ll be saying this not
as a president who wants to impose a political system on Cuba,” he said.
Rather, he’ll show the Cubans “what we believe in.”
Rhodes sent mixed signals on how far the administration would go to
ensure that Miami-based journalists, especially Cuban-born reporters who
have been unable to get visas, would be allowed on the island to cover
Obama in Cuba.
The schedule was still in flux but Rhodes said Obama would attend an
exhibition baseball game put on by the Tampa Bay Rays. Rhodes said he
expected Raúl Castro to attend, noting “baseball is a language that is
shared by Americans and Cubans.”
Rhodes also disclosed in Miami that Obama would be accompanied by the
first lady, and four Cabinet members — Secretary of State John Kerry,
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and
Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business
Administration. Rhodes pledged a bipartisan representation of Congress
would also accompany the president, but said the list was not yet set.
“There is no question we have profound differences with the Cuban
political system,” Rhodes said. But he insisted again and again that
White House policy was to help empower a civil society by easing
isolation and reaching out to the self-employed. “Our engagement is both
with the government and people of Cuba.”
Rhodes said the topic of returning the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay,
Cuba, was not up for discussion in the three-day visit, although he said
the Cuban government would no doubt raise it.
Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg
Source: White House adviser: Obama may invoke Cuban exiles in Havana |
Miami Herald –