From: Carol Lee
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 11:42 AM
To: Barnes, Desiree N. EOP/WHO; Velz, Peter T. EOP/WHO
Subject: Travel pool report #4
President Obama is meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders at the US embassy in Havana.
Mr. Obama said the meeting gives him the opportunity to hear directly from the leading civil society leaders here in Cuba. He said he'd met some previously, some in Miami and some in Panama last year during the Summit of the Americas. They were seated around a small oval table. Mr. Obama was seated in the middle, facing the door. The participants had Secretary Kerry was standing off to the side. Mr. Obama spoke for about 2.5 minutes. He didn't answer a question asking if he had anything to add on Brussels.
"All of the individuals around this table have shown extraordinary courage," he said. A few I've had a chance to meet previously, some in Miami, some when I was in Panama for the Summit of the Americas. Some I'm meeting for the first time.
"All of the individuals around this table have shown extraordinary courage. They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about. Some of them represent specific constituencies inside of Cuba. Some of them have broader concerns regarding democracy, the ability to speak freely, worship freely, or assemble or are advocating on behalf of democratic practices here in Cuba.
There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some very recently. And as I have said consistently, part of our policy with respect to engagement with Cuba is not simply me meeting with President Castro or government-to-government relations. Much of this is a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape U.S. policy.
I want to thank all of them for being here. It requires oftentimes great courage to be active in civic life here in Cuba.
This is an area where we continue to have deep differences with the Cuban government. My hope is that by listening and hearing from them that we can continue to refine our policy in such a way that ultimately the Cuban people are able to live freely and prosperously."
Pool is holding at the embassy.