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Obama And Biden Will Skip Castro’s Funeral

Diana Nyad

Yesterday, the White House announced that neither President Obama nor Vice-President Biden would attend Fidel Castr0’s funeral:

President Obama and Vice President Biden will not attend the funeral of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the White House said Monday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters to “stay tuned” as to which top U.S. officials, if any, would attend the funeral, scheduled for Dec. 4.

Top Republicans have urged Obama not to attend the ceremony for Castro, 90, who died over the weekend.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted Saturday that Obama, Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry should “under no circumstance” go to Cuba for Castro’s funeral.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Cuban-American, said that sending a high-level representative to the funeral would only burnish the legacy of a longtime U.S. adversary who carried out human-rights abuses against his own citizens.

“I would hope they would send no one to the funeral,” Rubio told Fox News on Saturday.

Obama faced criticism for issuing a relatively anodyne statement on Castro’s death, saying the former leader “altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.”

“History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” he wrote.

Earnest pushed back on that criticism, saying that the president’s policy of openness toward Cuba is the best way to force the country to make reforms and expand freedoms for its people.

“There certainly is no whitewashing the kinds of activities that he ordered and that his government presided over that go against the very values that our country has long defended,” the spokesman told reporters.

Notwithstanding President Obama’s decision to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba, and to end at leat part of the economic and travel embargo that has been in place against the island nation fpr the past fifty-five years, which I generally support, this decision strikes me as a good idea. Notwithstanding this slight thawing of relations and other reforms, there have yet to be any signs that the long history of political and religious oppression that Castro imposed on Cuba and the Cuban people virtually from the moment that he came to power. These are policies which neither Castro nor the Cuban government have repudiated, and they continue to this day thanks largely to the fact that Castro’s brother Raul is nation’s President and his cronies remain in power in Havana. For the leader of the United States, or the Vice-President, to attend the funeral of such a man would be an insult to both the principles that the United States stands for, to the millions that Castro and his cronies have victimized over the past half-century, and to the millions of Cubans who sacrificed everything, including in some cases their lives, by making the treacherous journey from Cuba to Florida so that their children could live in a free country. No doubt Castro’s funeral will be filled with hagiographic nonsense about how great a ruler Castro was, and there’s no reason an American President or Vice-President should give sanction to those lies by sitting through them out of “respect” for a man who deserved no such thing in life and deserves no such thing in death.

Ideally, the United States should send nobody to Castro’s funeral as part of an official designation. Let his cronies spread their lies about a dictator who spent far more time on Earth than he deserved without any kind of sanction from the United States. Given the reality of the rapprochement with Cuba and the hope that continuing talks with Havana will lead to political and economic reforms in Cuba that will actually help to alleviate the misery that the Cuban people have been living through for this past half-century, it’s probably advisable that we send someone just for appearances sake. If that’s the thinking in the White House, then the ideal person would be Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Acting U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, who has been in office since the U.S. officially restored diplomatic relations with the island nation. As it is, he is already in Cuba and would most likely attend the funeral with any official from Washington who would attend anyway, and sending him would avoid the needless publicity that would come with sending the President, Vice-President, or Secretary of State.

Castro is dead, and at least some of the Cuban people will mourn that fact. That’s fine, but the United States Government does not need to give sanction to the lies that will be told about a man who died deserving neither honor nor respect.

Update: The White House has announced that there will be no official U.S. delegation to Castro’s funeral:

President Obama has decided not to send a presidential delegation to Havana for the funeral of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former leader who was one of the United States’ staunchest Cold War enemies.

Instead of an official delegation, the White House will send one of the president’s top foreign policy advisers and its top diplomat on the island to the ceremony.

Obama has worked during his final years in office to end the United States’ policy of economic and diplomatic isolation toward Cuba, insisting that the old policy was not working. President-elect Donald Trump and other Republicans have slammed Obama for his outreach to the Cuban regime, and Trump has suggested that he might renegotiate the terms of the opening with the Cuban government or end it all together.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, who played a central role in negotiations with the Cubans, will attend Castro’s funeral. Rhodes “was already planning to travel to Cuba this week” for meetings with the Cuban government, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career diplomat who has headed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana since last summer, will also attend.

The decision to send Rhodes and DeLaurentis is something of a middle ground between sending an official delegation and ignoring the ceremony. ”There is a formal process where the president will delegate a delegation . . . that will not be taking place this time,” Earnest said.

As noted, this seems entirely appropriate under the circumstances.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pch101 says:

    To borrow from Dick Winters (RIP), you salute the rank, not the man.

    If the US is going to normalize relations with a nation, then it would good form for the VP to attend the funeral. You go because of the job title of the deceased, not because you liked the guy personally.

    Then again, it seems unlikely that the US is going to be having normal relations with anyone for quite awhile starting in January, so I suppose that it makes no difference now…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  2. @Pch101:

    Any title that Castro held was illegitimate by virtue of Cuba being a dictatorship and his claims to be “President” therefore being utter nonsense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. Tony W says:
  4. John Peabody says:

    Well-spoke, Doug. Having the local person performing ambassador functions should cover it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I agree, but I’m not sure it’s a standard we can apply consistently. If Xi Jinping drops dead tomorrow we’re not going to send anyone?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. Bill says:

    Doug,

    After Leonid Breznev died and with the Cold War still raging, a US delegation went to funeral. It was led by Vice-President Bush. What’s the difference between Brezhnev dictatorship and a Castro one?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Speaking of whom, Xi hasn’t made any plans to attend Castro’s obsequies.

    May, Putin, Trudeau, and Merkel have declined.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Bill says:

    Doug,

    After Yuri Andropov died and with the Cold War still raging, less than six months after KAL 007, a US delegation went to funeral. It was led by Vice-President Bush. What’s the difference between Andropov dictatorship and a Castro one?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. Pch101 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Castro ran the country, regardless.

    Not attending the funeral isn’t particularly a faux pas — the president and VP skip many of these things — but it doesn’t help much on the diplomatic front, either.

    While the incoming administration flings poo, Putin is singing Castro’s praises and I am assuming that he or some other Russian dignitary will be attending.

    Do you really want the Russians to use this one to their advantage, particularly with Cuba being within 100 miles of the Florida coast? (I suppose that we could send Sarah Palin to Miami in order to keep an eye on the Cubans…)

    Why does the US go out of its way to help the Castros look like the David that stands up to the American Goliath? How does that make any sense?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  10. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    Putin’s sending the speaker of the Duma, Volodin, in his stead.

    I wonder how Trump feels about his best buddy Vlad now that Putin has praised Castro as a great friend to Russia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Pch101 says:

    @CSK:

    I’m willing to bet that Trump won’t be trash talking Putin on Twitter or anywhere else.

    Trump is a typical bully: Happy to throw his weight around when he thinks that he can get away with it, but shamelessly submissive when he thinks that he can’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  12. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    You’re right about Twitter. At the moment, Trump’s b!tching about how “pathetic” CNN is for their support of Hillary when he won in a landslide, and suggesting that flag-burners be jailed or lose their citizenship.

    The news out of North Korea is that Li’l Kim will be sending diplomats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. @michael reynolds:

    Not an unfair point but the China situation is different in some respects. Additionally, the Cuban government seems to covet the recognition and sanction of the U.S. as part of its overall effort to improve its international image. The Chinese don’t really have that concern. Giving the Cuban’s what they want without getting something in return would be a mistake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. al-Alameda says:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted Saturday that Obama, Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry should “under no circumstance” go to Cuba for Castro’s funeral.

    I’m reminded of something Joe Scarborough supposedly said a few years back, something like, ‘if Newt Gingrich is the smartest person a the room, leave that room.”

    Clearly this is a sop to the new Republican administration, and it enables Marco Rubio to appear to be relevant again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  15. @Bill:

    See my response to Michael Reynolds regarding China.

    Additionally, part of the reason that happened was due to the fact that Reagan spent the early years of his Presidency looking for a Russian he could work with on issues like arms control. As he put it at one point, one reason he wasn’t succeeding until Gorbachev came along was because “they keep dying on me.” The Soviet Union was a far more serious player on the world stage than Cuba is today, so paying respects was important. Snubbing the Cubans will have no real impact.

    Additionally, I expect there will be some delegation sent to Castro’s funeral. It will just be led by the Ambassador instead of a prominent elected national official.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. SenyorDave says:

    @al-Alameda: I’m reminded of something Joe Scarborough supposedly said a few years back, something like, ‘if Newt Gingrich is the smartest person a the room, leave that room.”
    Paul Krugman once said that Newt Gingrich Is ‘A Stupid Man’s Idea Of What A Smart Person Sounds Like’. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stupid people who vote. After all, it could be said that Donald Trump is a stupid man’s idea of what a successful businessman is,and he will be POTUS soon. Assuming he doesn’t decide that the illegal votes went to him, and he concedes the race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. C. Clavin says:

    Send Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Ambassador in Cuba, and call it a day.
    Even Trump’s top, Putin, is not going.
    But to send no one, when you are trying to normalize relations and open up US business interests, is counter-productive.

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=A%20top

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. grumpy realist says:

    For heaven’s sake–send the standard Ambassador and stop worrying about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Tony W says:

    @Bill:

    What’s the difference between Brezhnev dictatorship and a Castro one?

    Several million square miles and a nuclear arsenal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Given that Ambassador DeLaurentis is already en situ, this should be the diplomatic equivalent of one-stop shopping.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. CSK says:

    Breaking news is that Ben Rhodes will be going. DeLaurentis will accompany him. This is not a formal delegation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. James Pearce says:

    I hear that Colin Kaepernick will be in attendance, though…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  23. Slugger says:

    Fidel is dead, and Raul is no spring chicken. I think we should define some goals and then structure policies that advance our goals. Here is what this guy would like to see in Cuba and other neighboring states:
    1. No offensive military hardware capable of serious threats to the US.
    2. No safe harbors for criminality which would include narcotraffic and money laundering.
    3. Reasonable conformity to international norms for trade and business.
    4. Adherence to norms of civil liberties for their citizens.
    Obviously, pursuing such goals without offending their sovereignty and need for national pride will be tricky. If we swear off undue interference such as what happened in El Salvador, it would help.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    I commend the president and vice-president for making the right choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Any title that Castro held was illegitimate by virtue of Cuba being a dictatorship and his claims to be “President” therefore being utter nonsense.”

    Interesting. Was Pinochet’s title nonsense? Is the king of Saudi Arabia’s? The president of Egypt who seized power in a military coup? President Xi? Kim Jong Un? What’s the line between real title and nonsense title?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. wr says:

    @Bill: “What’s the difference between Brezhnev dictatorship and a Castro one?”

    Cuba is small, so it’s easy to kick around. The USSR had nukes and was big, so they got respect. It’s the “conservative” mantra — kick down, kiss up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Snubbing the Cubans will have no real impact.”

    And therefore doing it makes us look petty and childish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  28. Pch101 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Additionally, the Cuban government seems to covet the recognition and sanction of the U.S. as part of its overall effort to improve its international image.

    The Cubans play the American right like a fiddle.

    Cuba’s international image is that it is the brave little country that has the guts to stand up against an aggressive, self-centered, self-important United States that lectures the world but doesn’t practice what it preaches.

    The failures that come from the Castro’s mismanagement are blamed instead on the US embargo. We might makes some progress if there was no embargo to blame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  29. Tyrell says:

    Send Rodman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Slugger:

    “2. No safe harbors for criminality which would include narcotraffic and money laundering.”
    Of all the Caribbean and Central American nations, Cuba is the only one that hasn’t suffered greatly at the hands of the Narcos. Expect that to change.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0