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Obama will skip Fidel Castro's funeral but is sending an informal delegation

The Cuban flag hangs at half-staff in front of a picture of Fidel Castro on the facade of the Cuban national library in Havana. (Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
The Cuban flag hangs at half-staff in front of a picture of Fidel Castro on the facade of the Cuban national library in Havana. (Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama is not going to the memorial service for former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on Tuesday but instead is sending a pair of key representatives to pay their respects, an informal appearance that reflects the delicate diplomacy between the White House and the leadership in Havana.

Obama is sending Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, along with deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, but the two men are not being dispatched as part of a formal delegation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

DeLaurentis and Rhodes played key roles in reopening U.S. ties to the communist island nation in late 2014, ending five decades of a Cold War-era freeze in relations.

The policy has been celebrated for opening the possibility of expanded trade with and travel to Cuba, while critics attacked Obama for engaging with President Raul Castro without extracting concessions on human rights. His brother Fidel held power through firing squads, false imprisonment and harsh treatment of dissidents.

President-elect Donald Trump was one of those critics, saying after Fidel Castro’s death that if Cuba isn’t willing to “make a better deal for the Cuban people … and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal.”

After Castro died Friday, the White House released an oblique statement noting that his death filled Cubans “with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

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