White House spokesman Josh Earnest spun Fidel Castro's lengthy critique of President Obama Monday as proof his Cuba visit had its "intended effect."
Obama became the first sitting president in nearly 90 years to visit Cuba last week, where he attended a baseball game and did a joint press conference with Cuban president Raul Castro. Obama, who never met with Fidel but added he would be open to it, said during the visit that he welcomed the communist nation's criticism of the United States. Cuba arrested dozens of government critics the day Obama arrived.
Fidel Castro then unleashed a blistering editorial in the Cuban state newspaper that, among other things, assailed Obama's youth.
"So, Fidel Castro offered up a 1,500-word critique of the president's visit to Cuba. Is that a sign that the changes sought by the president are going to be a long time in coming … and how much influence does Fidel Castro still have in that community?" AP reporter Kevin Freking asked.
"Let me start by saying that the fact that the former president felt compelled to respond so forcefully to the president's visit, I think, is an indication of the significant impact of President Obama's visit to Cuba," Earnest said. "We obviously were quite pleased with the reception that President Obama received from the Cuban people. We're also pleased with the kind of conversations that President Obama was able to have with other Cuban government officials."
Castro said Cuba did not need "the empire to give us any presents." He added the Cubans are self-sufficient and "able to produce food and material wealth we need" with their own effort and intelligence:
Castro criticized Obama’s "saccharine" encouragement to "forget the past, leave the past, look to the future, look at it together, a future of hope." Considering the tense history of U.S.-Cuban relations, he wrote, Obama’s words "risked a heart attack."
"After a merciless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, those who have died in mercenary attacks on ships and Cuban ports, an airliner full of passengers that detonated in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence?" he wrote.
Castro also recounted America’s role in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, writing that, "nothing can justify this premeditated attack that cost our country hundreds of killed and wounded."
He rejected Obama’s claims that America and Cuba were "built in part by slaves…from America" and that Americans and Cubans "can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners."
"Native populations do not exist at all in Obama’s mind," Castro wrote and poked at Obama’s youth. "Nor does he say that racial discrimination was swept away by the Revolution; that retirement and salary of all Cubans were declared by this before Mr. Barack Obama turned ten years old."
Castro then advised Obama to stay out of Cuban politics.
Earnest said Obama made clear during the trip that the United States had a "rock-solid" commitment to human rights.
"The kind of engagement that President Obama was able to pursue in the context of his visit is the kind of engagement that would not have been possible had he not made the trip," Earnest said. "The president was able to go to Cuba and urge President Castro in person about the importance of human rights. The president was able to stand before a news conference of the assembled global media and make a forceful case for the Cuban government to protect universal human rights."
Earnest touted the joint press conference as something that had "never happened before" and was made possible by Obama's trip. Castro flatly denied during that conference that the Cuban government was holding any political prisoners.
"That also created a venue where a couple of your colleagues were able to ask President Castro about this issue directly," Earnest said. "That's the kind of thing that's never happened before, and there's no denying that that creates some additional pressure on the Cuban government, and again, the fact that the former president felt compelled to respond, I think, is an indication that the trip had its intended effect."