WASHINGTON – The list of Cuban dissidents who will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits the island “is non-negotiable,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday.
“I would not be surprised if there are people on that list that the Cuban government prefer we not meet with,” Earnest told his daily press conference, as Obama prepares to leave Sunday for his state visit in Cuba.
“But I can tell you the president is going to move forward in those meetings and have a conversation about human rights... The list of people invited to meet with the president in Cuba is non-negotiable,” Earnest said.
The spokesman avoided giving any details about the dissidents who will take part in the meeting with Obama.
The White House has only said that the president will meet with members of Cuban civil society, including well-known dissidents.
However, a number of them have already confirmed to EFE that they have received their invitations by telephone, including Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White; former political prisoner Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba; and independent journalist Miriam Leiva.
During his trip to Havana, the first of a sitting U.S. president since 1928, Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and give an “important speech” at Havana’s Gran Teatro on Tuesday, the day he will meet with dissidents and attend an exhibition baseball game between a Cuban team and the MLB Tampa Bay Rays.
The state of rights and freedoms in Cuba is one of the thorniest issues the island and the U.S. must navigate in the new scenario created by the diplomatic thaw that began Dec. 17, 2014.