President Barack Obama is not sending a presidential delegation to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s memorial service Tuesday evening, but two senior administration officials will attend the remembrance, according to the White House.
“The president has decided not to send a presidential delegation to attend the memorial service today,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat to Cuba, will attend the service.
“Those of you who have been following this story closely over the last couple of years know that Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago,” Earnest said. “He has been the principal interlocutor with the Cuban government from the White House in crafting this policy and implementing it successfully.”
Earnest said that Rhodes was already planning to travel to Cuba this week, so in addition to the meetings with Cuban government officials and with officials at the U.S. Embassy that he had on his schedule, he will attend the memorial service.
When pressed about why Obama did not formalize a presidential delegation, given that two U.S. officials will attend, Earnest said, “So much of the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba is quite complicated.”
“There are many aspects of the U.S.-Cuba relationship that were characterized by a lot of conflict and turmoil, not just during the Castro regime, but we continue to have some significant concerns about the way the Cuban government currently operates, particularly with regard to protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people,” Earnest said.
“So we believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing, future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people and this was an appropriate way to show respect, to participate in the events that are planned for this evening, while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries,” he added.
Castro’s funeral is on Sunday, but no U.S. officials are expected to be present for that ceremony as part of a presidential delegation. Earnest indicated he was uncertain whether any U.S. officials will attend in an unofficial capacity.
Obama made a historic visit to Cuba in March but did not meet with Fidel Castro, instead meeting with his brother Raul Castro, the country’s current president.