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White House: Cuba Critics 'Scrambling to Justify Their Loyalty to Failed Isolationism'

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and President Donald Trump inspect an honor guard in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

WASHINGTON — The White House today called critics of President Obama’s choice to leave out Cuba’s human rights abuses in his statement marking Fidel Castro’s death people “scrambling to try to justify their loyalty to an obviously failed policy of isolation that didn’t bring about any results for the Cuban people or for the American people.”

Obama’s statement Saturday said that “history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

“We offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people,” he said after extolling his administration’s detente with the communist island. “In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that Obama’s statement “makes clear the president’s desire to look toward the future” because “that’s the responsibility that he has as the president of the United States and as the leader of this country.”

“And to issue some sort of blistering statement and engage in the kind of mutual recriminations that are tied to the past, it doesn’t advance freedom or democracy on the island nation of Cuba,” Earnest said. “It doesn’t expand economic opportunity or cultural opportunities for the American people. It doesn’t advance further the success that we’ve had in removing the Cuba issue as an impediment in our relationship with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

He argued that “actually was an irritant between the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere that had a relationship with Cuba” and “the consequence of that was that there wasn’t as much of a discussion about the human rights conditions in Cuba.”

Earnest added that thanks to Obama’s policies “there’s been much more scrutiny of the way the Cuban government treats the Cuban people.”

“And it has allowed the United States to marshal international opinion and shine a brighter light on those policies in a way that has increased pressure on the Cuban government,” he said. “…And I know that many of the president’s critics like to suggest that somehow, the United States has made a bunch of concessions to the Cuban government. That’s wrong.”

One of the president’s critics, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), said Saturday that “contrary to the romanticized idea being peddled by some, recent lopsided concessions in U.S. policy towards Cuba have not led to an iota of positive changes in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live.”

“We know that the Castro regime is still a brutal totalitarian dictatorship that continues to deprive the Cuban people of the basic human rights we so proudly proclaim to support around the world,” Menendez said. “It is my sincere hope that we will use this moment to listen to the human rights activists, the Cubans who have sacrificed day and night in a peaceful struggle for freedom to reexamine and determine a new policy toward the Castro regime. We can never forget those who have suffered and died at the hands of Fidel and Raul Castro.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Castro’s death “does not mean freedom for the Cuban people or justice for the democratic activists, religious leaders, and political opponents he and his brother have jailed and persecuted.”

“The dictator has died, but the dictatorship has not,” Rubio said. “And one thing is clear, history will not absolve Fidel Castro; it will remember him as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery and suffering on his own people.”