Goldberg: I want to come back to that, but one of the things that you didn't mention was a notion that by opening Cuba, you’ll change Cuba, particularly on human-rights issues and democratization issues. Is that not a priority of the president?
Rhodes: It’s absolutely a priority. There are two openings here. One is to Cuba, and we believe that the Cuban people are suffering under the embargo—that the Cuban government is very comfortable in a situation where we’re just seeking to isolate them, pressure them, support a number of actors inside of Cuba but not reach out to the whole Cuban people. By opening up travel, by opening up commerce, you’re going to empower the Cuban people. They’re going to get more resources; they're going to have more interconnectivity to the rest of the world. This over time has a greater chance of improving the human-rights circumstances in Cuba than isolation and pressure.
The second point is about Latin America. When we came into office, the wind was at the back of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales and the anti-American forces, the ALBA movement in Latin America, in part because we played to type—we played exactly into the type that they wanted, which is the Americans coming and telling people who should run their countries, the Americans are throwing their weight around in the region in ways that fed this ideological dispute. By removing ourselves from that conversation, we remove a rationale for those anti-American leaders. And in fact you’ve seen just in the last several months elections in Argentina, in which the anti-American president Cristina Kirchner was replaced by a very pro-American president, President [Mauricio] Macri, who we’ll be visiting after Cuba, and you’ve seen Evo Morales lose a referendum in Bolivia. I’m not saying there’s a direct causal effect to our policies, but it is indisputable that we have removed ourselves essentially as a justifying force for those leaders in the region who have a politics that is rooted in anti-Americanism.
Goldberg: It’s an issue of great controversy, shortly before this historic first trip by the president to Cuba, about whether he’s even going to see human-rights dissidents, political dissidents. Can you give us a little bit of where the thinking is there, and would you be satisfied to go to Cuba and not meet political dissidents? Are you strengthening inadvertently the hand of a single-party state and its repressive system?
Rhodes: So first of all, we will see dissidents. We’ve made clear to the Cuban government that we see who we want to see in other countries.
Goldberg: There's been pushback from the Cubans, though. Is that fair?
Rhodes: Not on the president, no. I think they know, because we laid down the marker at the very beginning that we’d be seeing dissidents on this trip. But the second, and more important point is, we utterly reject this notion that there’s only one way to promote democracy and human rights. There are a group of people, I think, in the United States who say, “The only way to demonstrate that you care about human rights in Cuba is to criticize the regime, isolate the regime, and only try to engage with dissidents.” We don’t think that works. We care just as much about human rights and democracy as those people, but the fact of the matter is, we don’t think doing something that’s not working is the way to go about promoting democracy and human rights. We think we’re going to be better positioned to do it through engagement. Just one small example is having an embassy. This has been treated as some kind of concession, to have an embassy set up in Cuba. The fact is, having an embassy in Cuba allows us to have more contact with the Cuban people, whether it’s dissidents, civil society, entrepreneurs, and others. So we believe that this is a better way, through engagement, of advancing the things that we care about.