Washington, Feb 18: Asserting that there has been a sea change in US-Cuba relationship, the White House today said President Barack Obama's historic visit to Havana next month will help in concretizing the progress made in bilateral ties.
"As we considered whether to go this year to Cuba, the President's judgment was that, number one. Going to Cuba was an important step forward in signaling this new beginning between our two countries and peoples," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters. "Also importantly that going to Cuba could help enlarge this space that benefits the Cuban people and increases ties between our countries.
And that in fact going earlier this year would allow us to try to get more (work) done both around his visit and in the days and months that follow," he said after Obama announced his decision to visit Cuba in March. Rhodes said there has been a sea change in US-Cuban relations over the last year and a half since Obama and his Cuban counterpart announced on December 17, 2014 that they would have a process of normalising relations.
"So what we'll be focusing on with respect to the visit is how can we take the changes we've made in our policies and regulations and try to connect them to changes and reforms that the Cubans are making so that there's more commercial activity, so that there's more of an opening for US businesses, but importantly for Cubans to benefit from that activity and to be able to access more resources and, again, achieve a better life," he said.
During his two-day trip, Obama is unlikely to meet the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro. "I wouldn't expect him to meet with Fidel Castro. Raul Castro is now the president of Cuba. He'll certainly meet with President Castro," he said.
The Obama Administration, he said, believes not going and isolating Cuba doesn't serve to advance the issues of concerns to the US and the international community. "That we will be in a better position to support human rights, and to support a better life for the Cuban people by engaging them and raising these issues directly," he said.
"Whether that's individual human rights cases we're concerned about, whether that's the types of reforms that could broaden opportunity for the Cuban people, or whether that's just how do we directly engage Cuban civil society, so that we are speaking out for the values that we support?" he said.
"In our judgment, engagement is a far more effective means of addressing those issues than isolation," Rhodes said. "So, we want to make this policy change irreversible. That means that we want links between Cubans and Americans, and the links between our businesses and the engagement between our countries to gain such momentum that there's an inevitability to the opening that is taking place, and to the increase in activity between our countries," he added.