By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba said it would welcome President Barack Obama to Havana later this month, but the Communist government had no intention of changing its policies in exchange for normal relations with the United States.
In a long editorial on Wednesday in Communist Party newspaper Granma and other official media, Cuba demanded Washington cease meddling in its internal affairs and said Obama could do more to change U.S. policy.
The White House brushed off the piece and defended the president’s trip next month as an opportunity to engage both with Cuba’s government and its citizens.
Obama will visit on March 20-22, 15 months after he and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to end more than five decades of Cold War-era animosity.
They have restored diplomatic ties, and Obama has relaxed a trade sanctions and travel restrictions, leading Republican opponents and some of the president’s fellow Democrats to question whether Washington was offering too much without reciprocation from Havana.
But the editorial made it clear that Cuba still has a long list of grievances with the United States, starting with the comprehensive trade embargo. Obama wants to rescind the embargo but Republican leadership in Congress has blocked the move.
Cuba also objected to U.S. support for its political dissidents, whom some Americans consider champions of human rights but whom the Cuban government views as an unrepresentative minority funded by U.S. interests.
“(The United States) should abandon the pretense of fabricating an internal political opposition, paid for with money from U.S. taxpayers,” the nearly 3,000-word editorial said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama’s “long agenda includes visiting with political opposition of the Cuban government and standing up for, in a very tangible way, the universal human rights of the Cuban people.”
Obama visit will be only the second by a U.S. president and the first since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro that overthrew a pro-American government.
The editorial said Cuba no one should assume Cuba had to “renounce any of its principles or cede the slightest bit in its defense” to do so.
The two countries have also negotiated greater cooperation on law enforcement and environmental issues and agreed to resume scheduled commercial flights and postal services. Obama has removed Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The editorial acknowledged Obama had taken positive steps but criticized their “limited nature and the existence of other regulations and intimidation caused by the overall blockade that has been in force for more than 50 years.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Lisa Von Ahn and Alistair Bell)
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque