Remarks at CPAC

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Introductory remarks at today's CPAC Cuba panel by Mauricio Claver-Carone:

Ironically, as American democracy was being attacked by foreign terrorists on September 11th 2001 -- on that very same day -- 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere were signing the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, Peru, which affirmed representative democracy as the pre-eminent value in inter-American relations.

The one exception, of course, was Castro's Cuba. At the time, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was still pretending to be a democrat -- as Castro had done four decades before him.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter was no small feat in a region that just a decade before was plagued by military dictatorships of the left and the right.

Today, ten years after the signing of this Charter, democracy in the Americas is once again under assault -- this time almost exclusively from the left.

Led ideologically by the Castro brothers and economically by Hugo Chavez, today there is a coalition of socialist governments, which include Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, which are using electoral victories to subvert democratic institutions and fundamental rights once they obtain power.

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration's policy was to befriend -- "extend a hand" -- to Castro and Chavez. This policy seems to have only emboldened their behavior. On the flip side, the Administration has been slow to embrace our strongest democratic allies in the region, as evidenced by the three year delay in approving trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. This has created weariness among our friends.

In addition to a threat to democracy, there is now a national security threat brewing, as the Castro-Chavez coalition has strengthened it ties to other rogue regimes, namely Iran. Just last month, a conspiracy was uncovered -- concerningly, by the media and not by the Administration -- in which Cuban, Venezuelan and Iranian intelligence officials planned to launch cyber-attacks against sensitive US targets. This led to the expulsion of Venezuela's Consul General in Miami, who formed part of this conspiracy.

There's also renewed ties to organized crime. In the same manner as senior Cuban regime officials were accused -- and even indicted -- for trafficking narcotics into the U.S. during the 80s and 90s, Venezuela's new Minister of Defense, General Rangel Silva, is on the Treasury Department's sanctioned persons list for such activities.

On a positive note, during the Republican Presidential debates, two candidates (Governor Romney and Senator Santorum) recognized the Castro-Chavez ties to Iran, terrorism and organized crime as the potential 3 a.m. call of the next Presidency.

Thus, the problems are evident -- at least for those that are paying attention. So what are the solutions? That's the purpose of our discussion here today.