As Obama's Cuban Trip Wraps Up, Administration Hopes Conversation Will Continue
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president is scheduled to deliver a speech in Havana, Cuba, which is where he's been traveling after the restoration of relations there. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. Scott, good morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Who's the president talking to?
HORSLEY: He's going to be addressing just over a thousand invited guests at the Gran Teatro, overlooking the Central Park here in Havana. But this revolutionary move by the president will be televised so people all over Cuba can hear and see what he has to say as will Cuban-Americans back home. Ben Rhodes, one of the president's top speechwriters, says this is a big moment in a Cuba trip that has been filled with them.
BEN RHODES: It's the one chance on this visit to really step back and just speak directly to the Cuban people and all of the Cuban people. The fact that that will be able to be broadcast and received here in Cuba provides an important opportunity for him to lay out his vision for what the future is.
HORSLEY: Rhodes says that's an optimistic vision. Obama joked yesterday about the ingenuity of the Cuban people, joking about their famous ability to maintain old cars with a few spare parts and said just imagine what they can do with more opportunity, more contact with the outside world. He's also likely to bring up Cuba's troubled human rights record, which has been an obstacle to that kind of inclusion.
INSKEEP: And I guess you can grab that phone if you need to. But in the meantime, I suppose Cuba's President Raul Castro is not going to refer to it as a troubled human rights record.
HORSLEY: You know, we had this remarkable moment yesterday when both the president and Raul Castro took questions from reporters. And, you know, we didn't know if the Cuban president was going to answer questions. That's a normal thing for Obama to do when he travels, but Castro not so much. So there was this moment of drama when Obama called on CNN's Jim Acosta, whose father is from Cuba. And Acosta asked Castro, why does Cuba even have political prisoners, and why don't you release them?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JIM ACOSTA: (Speaking Spanish).
PRES RAUL CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).
HORSLEY: Castro's answer was dismissive. Give me the list of prisoners, he said. Cuba typically argues these prisoners are being held for reasons other than their opposition to the government. But more important than Castro's answer is the fact that he stood alongside Obama and took questions. He also raised some pointed questions of his own about conditions in the U.S. The White House says Americans aren't afraid to face up to tough questions, and the Cuban government shouldn't duck them either.
INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's Scott Horsley.