W.H. Admits, But Downplays, Dissident Arrests Spiking Since Cuba Normalization

‘What we see is this practice of short-term detentions, harassment of people seeking to express basic rights’

REPORTER: "I want to ask you to talk a little bit about I think critics have pointed to the spike of arrest of dissidents in Cuba as evidence maybe they have wi-fi hot spots now but there's actually been a regression on human rights issues. So I'm wondering do you guys see this having been enough positive, or has this issue kind of overshadowed some of the gains that have been made, especially economically? I wanted to ask really quickly if there has been progress made on returning some American fugitives that are now in Cuba. And then on Argentina, if the U.S. Sees now that there is a new president -- or a new first family for the first time in a long time, whether they can be an ally and what kind of reception you expect the president to get especially considering the one that has no --"
RHODES: "Yeah. So on human rights. First of all, we see everything that we're doing as being in the net positive for the lives and human rights of the Cuban people. I'd say a number of things. First of all, the economic issues ultimately are connected to the human rights issues because it gets at are the Cuban people going to benefit from having a better well being, are they going to be empowered by greater access to information and the outside world? But we're also seeing is the expectations of the Cuban people have gone up for the future. And that's a good thing. We want the Cuban people to be hopeful for the future. We want them to see that there are possibilities for them to be continuing to pursue a better life. What we do see with the government is they have continued in particular a practice of these short-term detentions that are, again, deeply concerning. The number of kind of long-term political prisoners along the lines of a number of people released around December 17 9, those types of detentions have gone down over the years and months. But what we see is this practice of short-term detentions, harassment of people seeking to express basic rights. And that's an issue that we'll be raising directly with the Cuban government. And the fact of the matter is the Cuban people see this as a hopeful time as a moment of opportunity. And it's important that the Cuban government recognize that, you know, those aspirations of their people are going to ultimately rebound to the benefit of Cuba is not something to be put down. So it will be on the agenda. As we look at this, it's important to remember. We tried it one way for 50 years. We had an embargo. We had democracy funding. And you did not have a promotion of human rights on the island. We believe this is a much better way to ultimately support the Cuban people and help them achieve a better life. I'll give you just one example. You know, the U.S. Government had an embargo that limited the Cuban people's ability to access all kinds of goods, at the same time we were seeking to provide phones to some individual Cubans. Well, why not just try to allow all Cubans to have access to telecommunications? That in our judgement is a better way of advancing the things that we care about."

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