Washington Week: Focus on Cuba, North Korea

December 21,2014

President Barack Obama and U.S. lawmakers have left Washington for the remainder of the year, but the city remains focused on historic and unprecedented developments on the world stage. The coming week is expected to bring continued scrutiny of a diplomatic opening between the United States and Cuba, as well as North Korea’s alleged role in hacking media giant Sony.

While some Cuban exiles protest in Miami, and Cubans on the island hope for an economic boost, President Raul Castro says renewed ties between Washington and Havana do not signal an end to communism in Cuba.

“In the same way that we have never demanded the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” said he.

Such comments confirm the worst fears of President Obama’s critics, like Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

“Engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms. The Cuban government controls every aspect of their economy. They intend to follow the model of Vietnam and China where they can grow their economy, but they do not grow political freedoms. In fact, they repress them,” said Rubio, speaking on ABC’s This Week program.

Late last week, Obama departed for a holiday vacation in Hawaii. Before leaving, he defended the decision to rebuild relations with Cuba.

“I do not anticipate overnight changes [in Cuba], but what I know deep in my bones is that if you have done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome,” said Obama.

Meanwhile, Sony is defending its decision not to release a movie that ridicules North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Appearing on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS program, Sony Pictures chief Michael Lynton remained steadfast.

“We have not caved. We have not given in. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie,” said Lynton.

Washington has become increasingly alarmed over America’s vulnerability to cyber-theft and cyber-attacks - concerns now heightened after federal officials concluded that North Korea was behind a massive digital breach at Sony.

President Obama pledged a response.

“Our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place. We will respond [to North Korea] in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

North Korea has denied any involvement in the Sony hack. The episode, along with the opening to Cuba, will be subjects of intense congressional scrutiny when lawmakers return to Washington in January.