As the United States and Cuba further engage in restoring diplomatic relations, the White House on Friday framed Cuba’s concerns over the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in the same context as U.S. complaints about Cuba’s human rights record.
“We have been very clear that we are going to continue to speak up for human rights and we are going to continue to have differences as it relates to the nature of Cuba’s political system, just as I would fully anticipate the Cuban government to make clear its opposition to the United States ongoing activities in Guantanamo Bay, for instance,” White House deputy national security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Panama City where President Barack Obama is attending the Summit of the Americas.
Upon taking office in 2009, Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo over the next year, but the prison for terror suspects remains open.
“Normalization is a process. We’ve already changed a lot about our relationship just in the last several months in terms of much greater high-level dialogue and much greater engagement with the Cuban people,” Rhodes said.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke by phone Wednesday, and Obama will be attending events with Castro and other leaders Friday. A more substantial discussion between the two leaders is expected Saturday. Rhodes said there is no formal meeting scheduled, but the two will talk on the “margins” of the summit. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Thursday.
“I think the next major step is the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening embassies as it relates to normalization process,” Rhodes continued. “That still doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be these fundamental tensions that exist. Our question is, is it better to address our differences as it relates to human rights in Cuba by not talking to the Cuban government, by cutting ourselves off from the Cuban people, and by clinging to a policy of isolation that has failed for 50 years? Or, is it better to give us much better engagement with the Cuban people and Cuban government to make our views known?”