|THE CUBA DECISION|
March 20, 1998
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced today the easing of two restrictions on Cuba. Direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba will be permitted, and Cuban exiles in this country will be allowed to send U.S. dollars to relatives on the island. Following a background report, Phil Ponce leads a discussion on whether this is the right way to bring about reform in Cuba.
PONCE: We get two views now: Florida Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart
was born in Cuba and came to the United States in 1960. Alfredo Duran
is vice president of the Cuban Committee for Democracy, a non-profit organization,
which favors dialogue with Cuba. He also was born in Cuba and left right
after the revolution in 1959. Gentlemen, welcome. Mr. Duran, your reaction
to the President's announcement that he wants to ease--that he plans to
ease some of these restrictions.
ALFREDO DURAN, Cuban Committee for Democracy: I think it's a very positive sign. In the words of Sec. Albright, it's about time that the United States applies some fresh thinking to Cuba policy. It's a failed policy. It hasn't worked in the past, it isn't working now, and it will not work in the future. The United States should engage in a process of changing and reviewing the U.S. policies towards Cuba. The embargo has only served as a Berlin Wall around Cuba that has prevented it from being contaminated by fresh ideas on economics, on politics, on social, and on democratic changes. It's about time that that situation changes.
PHIL PONCE: Congressman, about time?
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART, (R) Florida: It's about time for the Berlin Wall to come down all right, but it's not the embargo that's a Berlin Wall. The only embargo that is imposed upon the Cuban people is the embargo on freedom, the embargo on democracy, the embargo on human rights, the embargo on sovereignty and self-determination, that is imposed by a 39-year-old dictatorship. I do not believe, by the way, and there were a few inaccuracies in the introductory story I think that need to be clarified, if we have time.
No. 1, the Helms-Burton Law does not seek to stop investment in Cuba. Only investment in stolen property from American citizens knowingly by foreign investors--it's a difference that may seem subtle, but it is not. With regard to the shoot down of two years ago, which is directly related to the actions today, I do not believe in second-class American citizenship. Three American citizens were shot down in a totally unprecedented way by the Castro regime, the terrorist state, over international waters just two years ago. The ban on direct flights was instituted as a sanction for that unprecedented shoot down of unarmed civilians, Americans, by President Clinton. It was instituted as a sanction on Castro just two years ago. A unilateral gesture of just telling Castro, well, two years have passed, it's long enough, I know you shot down American citizens over international waters, we're going to lift the sanctions that we imposed on you, I think is extremely disrespectful to the memory of those unarmed American citizens who were shot over international waters. And with regard to the embargo, it's in law, I think the most disturbing part of Sec. Albright's statement today was when she said we're just doing these two measures, we're not going to lift the ban on tourism, massive tourism, and business travel to Cuba. Of course they can't. It's law. Only the Congress--and I wish that the administration would realize that in our system the executive executes, the Congress passes the law, and everyone has to follow the law.
PHIL PONCE: Congressman, Secretary Albright said that this did not reflect a change in basic--in basic policy, that it's just--it's just easing of these recent restrictions. Do you see this as a change in basic policy, the kind of policy you're referring to?
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: It cannot be a change in basic policy because we in Congress codified that policy. We have said in law the embargo will remain as an instrument of pressure so that those who find themselves in the situation of provisionality after Castro dies or is killed, they will want to lift the U.S. embargo, and so that they are encouraged, pressured to hold elections. That's the purpose of our policy. Free elections is the purpose, is the goal of our policy. That's law. And that cannot be changed by the administration. It can only be changed by Congress. And so that's why, obviously, the essence of our policy, which is to make sure that there is some form of external pressure, as, by the way, there has been in every single democratic transition in the last 50 years--if you look at every single democratic transition, whether it's Franco's Spain or Trujillo's Dominican Republic or Chile, there's been some form of external pressure. We are going to maintain that form of external pressure--the U.S. embargo, so that the Cuban people have the right to free election. That's our goal. And we're going to hold out and deny our market to the Castro regime until there is a democratic transition in Cuba.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duran, do you think the easing of sanctions could promote the transition to democracy, in your opinion?
ALFREDO DURAN: Absolutely. There has not been one single embargo in the history of modern days that has worked. It is very sad that four young men were shot down. They were shot down by the Cuban air force. There is no reason to condemn 11 million Cubans to hunger and illness affecting a whole generation of Cubans, the youth, the elderly, and the whole population, in general. The embargo hasn't worked, and everybody knows it. And it will not work. The only way that you can change things in Cuba is by engaging it. The only way that you can change things in Cuba is by taking away from the Castro government the fear that he imposes on the people of Cuba that he is at a state of war with the United States. And evidence of that is the embargo. The embargo to the Castro government justifies its whole failure in the government structure and the failure in its policy for economic and social recuperation of Cuba.
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: I am certain that Mr. Duran knows that the embargo is not the cause of the destruction of Cuba. The embargo is not the cause of the hunger and the destitute way in which the Cuban people have to languish day in and day out.
PHIL PONCE: Congressman, if I can interrupt you, along those lines, today there was a U.N. report that was issued that said that the Cuban government continues to violate human rights but says that the U.S. embargo "serves as a ready pretext for keeping the population under strict control and for punishing or suppressing those who work for political change or social space for the individual." Your reaction to that report.
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: I'm well aware of the pretext argument. Mr. Duran has just brought it up as well, and it's often repeated. When Castro began his systematic destruction of the Cuban economy in 1959 and 1960, he had no embargo. And yet, he had plenty of pretext. Tyrants, dictators will always be able to come up with pretexts for their destruction and their oppression. The reality of the matter is that I differ profoundly with the analysis of Mr. Duran with regard to democratic transitions. He says that no embargo has functioned in the last--in the last--in the recent past. My analysis of history is that there has been not one single democratic transition without external pressure. When there has not been external pressure, we see examples like China. I mean, I think there can be no clearer example--
PHIL PONCE: Congressman--
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: There can be no--
PHIL PONCE: Congressman, I'd like to get Mr. Duran's reaction.
ALFREDO DURAN: I believe--and Congressman Diaz-Balart knows very well that the situation in Cuba is a situation that the embargo has created. In fact, the justification for the Castro government, for all its failures, the failures of the Castro government is its own inability to resolve the Cuban problem. But that is justified to the Cuban people by the ghost of the embargo hovering all over Cuba all the time. Indeed, this is a policy that has not worked. If the U.S. government was run like a corporation, the chief executive officer would have been fired a long time ago for ineptness.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Duran, let me ask you--what impact--what do you think the practical impact of the easings of--the easing of sanctions might have?
ALFREDO DURAN: I think the practical impact is that you're going to see a whole bunch of thousands of Cubans who are now doing the same thing but doing it illegally, sending money illegally. The embargo and these things on the sending of money has really created a society here --people who are forced to break the law when they're going to do this now--you're going to see substantial change in the social structure here. You're going to become--the Cuban government has become more and more irrelevant to the people. And when that starts to happen is when you're going to see changes begin in the society and in the political system.
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: It's often interesting to see how the example of Poland and the activity in the 1980's, that the pope was very involved in, obviously the Church, in helping that country achieve freedom is mentioned as a relevant example. I think precisely we have to look at what was done by the pope, by the Church, by the United State government, led by President Reagan in the 1980's, to help Poland achieve freedom. The emphasis of that policy was to help the internal opposition. Nobody in this equation, nobody in this analysis talks about the internal opposition in Cuba. There is a growing internal opposition movement that is being oppressed, repressed, thrown in dungeons on a day in and day out basis, and yet, it has demonstrated extreme courage and is growing. That has to be the focus of our policy. We have to help the internal opposition, like in the 1980's, Solidarity and the internal opposition was helped in Poland. That's who we have to be looking at, not seeing how we can increase even if marginally, like with this decision, how much cash is going to be received by the Castro regime. That's not what's important. I just see no policy from the Clinton administration focusing in on the internal opposition. On the contrary, when people here in this community seek to send assistance to the internal opposition, they are denied licenses by the Clinton administration. The policy's got to be the internal opposition helping the people of Cuba, the internal opposition of Cuba that is fighting day in and day out to free that country.
ALFREDO DURAN: Congressman, Congressman, Diaz-Balart, the policy should be the same as it was in Eastern Europe, a policy of openness, of encouraging and stimulating debate and dialogue, and the only way that you're going to be able to achieve that is by engagement. It is this first step that has been taken today, and I think it's a very positive and every important step in creating that.
PHIL PONCE: Well, Mr. Duran, Congressman--
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: You let him interrupt but not me.
PHIL PONCE: Congressman, he responded to you. I'm afraid we're out of time. Thank you both for joining us.
REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: Okay. It's obvious you permit one kind of interruption. Thank you.