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“I Am Optimistic About Obama’s Policy Towards Cuba” – Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes: “I Am Optimistic About Obama’s Policy Towards Cuba” / Iván
García
Posted on March 26, 2016

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 24 March 2016 — On any given day, getting to the
residence of the press attaché for the United States public affairs
office in Cuba, located at 7th Avenue and 24th Street in the Havana
suburb of Miramar, never takes more than twenty minutes by taxi from the
center of Havana.

But Obama’s visit had left the capital in chaos. Dozens of streets had
been closed and police roadblocks set up in areas where the presidential
limousine, known as “The Beast,” and its entourage were to pass.

Sometime after 9:30 in the morning four independent Cuban journalists —
Yoani Sanchez, Augusto Cesar San Martin, Ignacio Gonzalez and I —
arrived at the residence of an American official. After a short
briefing, we were driven to the US embassy, a stone’s throw from the
Malecon.

Groups of people holding the Stars and Stripes surrounded the embassy,
offering statements to the foreign press while waiting to see Cadillac
One pass.

As soon as the president entered the diplomatic mission, a swarm of
journalists began trying to position themselves in strategic spots. For
five minutes reporters were allowed to take photos and videos before
Obama went to meet with various opposition figures.

We, the four independent journalists, were led into a marble colored
room with a photo of the Capitol in Washington. Every seat at the table
had a bottle of mineral water and a card with a journalist’s name on it.

Ben Rhodes arrived twenty minutes later. He was wearing a white striped
shirt, red tie and a black jacket. He looked tired. After a brief
introduction, he answered two questions from each journalist.

Yoani Sanchez, director of 14ymedio asked him about the internet and the
importance of the VII Cuban Communist Party Congress, scheduled to take
place next month, which could resolve the island’s political future.

Rhodes gave an overview of the options which different leading internet
companies have offered their Cuban counterpart.

“The Cuban government is probably feeling distrustful. But President
Obama’s trade packages will allow US companies like Google to invest in
the island. And, yes, we will be following what happens at the Communist
Party Congress with interest,” he added.

Augusto Cesar San Martin, a reporter for Cubanet, noted that, in spite
of the modest reforms implemented by General Raul Castro, 40,000 Cubans
had left the country over concerns that the Cuban Adjustment Act would
be repealed.

Rhodes insisted that the Obama administration was not thinking about
repealing it. “Though it is possible that a future Congress might make
modifications,” he added.

“The path to hell is paved with good intentions,” I, the reporter for
Marti Noticas, observed. “After a fifteen months and little progress,
the average Cuban feels deceived. There are more headlines and smoke
signals than real achievements.”

Rhodes said he felt optimistic. “Important economic and political
changes will come. This new policy is intended to empower the Cuban
people. It will not be an easy road. These are not short-term policies,”
he replied.

Ignacio, a video producer, asked about the embargo, though Rhodes
offered nothing new in his response to this or other issues. His
statements were in line with those made at meetings in Miami with
members of the exile and dissident communities, and during his meeting
with Cuban government journalists at Havana’s Hotel Parque Central.

The most interesting event took place in the embassy’s north wing, where
Obama met with thirteen representatives from the opposition. In
attendance were Manuel Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Berta Soler, Jose
Daniel Ferrer, Guillermo Farinas, Laritza Diversent, Dagoberto Valdes,
Miriam Celaya, Elizardo Sanchez, Yunier Angel Remon, Juana Mora, Nelson
Alvarez and Miriam Leiva.

Just after 1 P.M. The Beast hurriedly left for Cerro Stadium, where
President Obama was present for the first two innings of the game
between Tampa Bay and a Cuban national team.

Outside the embassy, neighbors asked who was leaving the building. Since
there was no official press coverage of Obama’s meeting with dissidents,
a man calling himself Calixto wanted to know who was at the meeting and
what they had talked about.

The roles have been reversed. Average Cubans are now interviewing
foreign and independent journalists. They are eager for information,
perhaps even for an exclusive.

Now it is the birds who are firing at the shotgun.*

Translator’s note: A Spanish language expression meaning that normal
roles have been reversed, such as when a subordinate tells someone in
higher authority what to do.

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Source: Ben Rhodes: “I Am Optimistic About Obama’s Policy Towards Cuba”
/ Iván García | Translating Cuba –
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