Sr. Obama Advisor: Cuba Policy Remains Focused on Freedom

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Excerpt from Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes' presentation of "2014 Foreign Policy Priorities for the Obama Administration":

On Cuba, as a general matter on regional issues, we understand that the nations of the hemisphere make their own determinations about the associations that they will join, about conferences that they will attend, so we respect that general process. I will say with respect to Cuba specifically, we have pursued changes in our own policies – in the first term, relaxed restrictions on family travel, remittances to the island. Certain types of travel to the island have – we’ve seen relaxed in terms of licensing. And we’ve also pursued migration talks and pragmatic cooperation when we can with the Cuban Government. So we’ve been open to exploring changes in our relationship and changes in a policy that, frankly, has not succeeded in bringing greater freedoms to the Cuban people.

At the same time, we also made very clear, though, that our concerns about human rights and freedoms for the Cuban people are still constant, and that ultimately, the policy we support are policies that bring greater freedoms to the people of Cuba, be it economic freedoms or political freedoms. And so the one concern, I think, that you’ve heard us express over the last several days is that around this conference, there have been some steps taken to harass or to silence political dissent, and we’d like to see countries, again, speak up for basic human rights that are in the Inter-American Charter. And that includes, again, freedom of expression and freedom for people to protest peacefully prominent among those.

So the American – if you look at the Americas, there’s been a great movement towards greater respect for human rights. We’d like to see that across the board, including in Cuba. And so we’ll continue to look at this balance as to how do we advance necessary changes that could improve the situation, but at the same time continue to express our concerns on these human rights issues [...]

On Cuba, look, President Obama has shown himself willing to look at changes in our policies, as I said. Our bottom line remains that we believe that there should be respect for human rights in Cuba, political and economic reforms that advance those opportunities for the Cuban people. The embargo, frankly, is not simply an act of the President, too; it’s an act of Congress. And there’s great congressional interest in making sure that we’re standing up for our democratic values in terms of our relationship with Cuba.

So those are constants in our policy. But we’re open to exploring pragmatic steps that can be taken, if they serve our interests, if they serve the interests of the hemisphere, if they serve the interests of the Cuban people.

Again, I would repeat the point I made earlier about Alan Gross, though, that so long as he is being held in a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Cuba, that is an impediment to improved relations. So we would very much like to see him released on a humanitarian basis, to, again, provide a different context for some of these issues.

But, I mean, I’d just close on this notion that I said at the – earlier, which is that we’re not seeking to continue debates from the ’60s and ’70s in the hemisphere. We’re seeking to pursue greater integration, and we’ve seen a lot of progress made. We’ve seen relations improve between the United States and countries that, in the past, we’ve had tensions (inaudible). But those have been reciprocal. We’ve seen countries pursue democratic reforms, we’ve seen countries reach out to the United States, and so that’s the type of step-by-step process that we believe can serve the interests of the hemisphere more broadly.