The U.S. won’t send a formal delegation to Fidel Castro’s memorial in Cuba. But two representatives will attend, the White House said Tuesday.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, will go to Tuesday night’s memorial, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Rhodes helped negotiate the diplomatic opening between the U.S. and Cuba announced on Dec. 17, 2014. President Barack Obama nominated DeLaurentis in September to be U.S. ambassador in Cuba. He has been the embassy chief since it reopened in July 2015.
“Mr. Rhodes has played a leading role in crafting the normalization policy that President Obama announced about two years ago,” Earnest said, calling Rhodes the “principal interlocutor” with the Cuban government.
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Even so, the White House downplayed the importance of sending the two men to the memorial. Earnest said Rhodes was already planning to travel to Cuba this week for meetings, so he added the memorial to his schedule.
The White House also made clear that the officials’ attendance does not mean that a formal U.S. delegation is being sent.
“Obviously, so much of the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba is quite complicated,” Earnest said, adding that relations between the two countries have been characterized “by a lot of turmoil and conflict, not just during the Castro regime.”
“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,” he said. “So, we believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment... while also acknowledging some of the differences that remain between our two countries.”
Earnest had said Monday neither President Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden would travel to Cuba for the memorial, which has drawn an array of world political figures. Secretary of State John Kerry won’t be there, either.
The U.S. embassy in Havana did not lower its flag to half-staff after Castro’s death. A spokesman said the U.S. doesn’t usually lower its flag to mourn foreign leaders.
Castro died Friday night at age 90, prompting the Cuban government to schedule nine days of national mourning. Cubans have been paying their respects in Havana. Castro’s remains will then travel across the country to reach the eastern city of Santiago, where they will be interred Dec. 4.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report. McClatchy correspondent Bergengruen reported from Washington.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rhodes and DeLaurentis would attend Castro’s funeral. They will attend the memorial.