Behind the Scenes in the Secret Cuba Negotiations

Ben Rhodes is the assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speech writing. He spoke at Aspen Ideas 2015.

After President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, a meeting with his staff was held about priorities for the president’s second term. Ben Rhodes, the president’s national security advisor for strategic communications, spoke up. He wanted to be involved in re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. “It was the one thing that I wanted to do,” he says. And so he became the chief US negotiator in the secret efforts to open up Cuba to the United States after five decades of isolation.

Rhodes spoke onstage about the efforts in Cuba at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2015. He says representatives from the two countries engaged in 100 hours of discreet discussions. What began as a conversation about a prisoner exchange grew broader, but it took time. “The idea of re-establishing diplomatic relations was not something that was immediately attractive to Cuba,” says Rhodes. “They were very comfortable being in a position of opposition to the United States.” A turning point, he says, came when President Obama shook Raúl Castro’s hand at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. According to Rhodes, that act of respect helped lead to the release of political prisoners held in Cuba and discussions about setting up a process for normalization and re-establishing diplomatic relations. He says these agreements sent “a signal to the world that we’re leaving the past behind.”


Arianna Huffington on Our Relationship with Technology  

Our increasing dependence on technology is making it harder to connect with ourselves, says Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. In this episode, she explains how devices, texts, emails, constant notifications, and social media are not just distractions, but addictions. Reimagining our relationship with technology can have a transformational impact on our well-being. Subscribe on iTunes or listen here.

Looking Ahead to the Festival

Chris Jackson is one of the only black editors in the publishing industry, and he’s bringing to life works about the “realities and absurdities born of the phenomenon of race in America.” Here’s what we’re reading ahead of the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival track Arts: Culture and Identity.

Consider This: Thanks to Jackson, mainstream readers have access to books by Victor LaValle, Mat Johnson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Eddie Huang, Jay Z, and civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson.

Read More about interactive art that takes on police brutality and an opinion piece about Hollywood and Asian actors.