– Soft power –
On the eve of the Castro-Obama meeting, White House officials were locked in talks with their Cuban counterparts to ensure the two leaders take even a few questions from the press.
Obama’s administration is betting that forcing Cuba to open up in this way, as well as a gradual relaxation of the embargo, will promote democratic change. But Obama is defending himself from critics who say he has given away too much.
Arriving in Havana, Obama admitted change is not going to happen “overnight.”
“Change is going to happen here and I think that Raul Castro understands that,” he told ABC News.
“Although we still have significant differences around human rights and individual liberties inside of Cuba, we felt that coming now would maximize our ability to prompt more change.”
Obama will be keen to hear from Castro about economic and political changes that are likely to come from a key Communist Party congress in April.
Castro may be interested to hear how Obama’s policy of engagement can weather a turbulent election year and change of administration next January.