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D. Fisk: Advancing the Day When Cuba Will Be Free

Advancing the Day When Cuba Will Be Free

Daniel W. Fisk, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere
Remarks to the Cuban American Veterans Association
Miami, Florida
October 9, 2004


At the outset, I want to recognize the commitment and sacrifice Cuban Americans have made in service to this country. Your sacrifices have helped to secure the freedoms and values that we all hold dear.

From those who served in Korea and Vietnam--including Brigade 2506 veterans--to those currently serving in Iraq, Cuban Americans have served their country with honor and valor--and the United States of America is clearly the better for it.

You are in many ways the best and the brightest of your generation, and but for a tragic twist of history your service could have been dedicated to building a free and prosperous Cuba.

You are to be commended for keeping the flame of freedom alive for that enslaved island. Your commitment and selfless dedication to Cuba's freedom may not be appreciated in all quarters of the globe, but I believe that when the history of our times is written, those authors will recognize that you were right and Castro's supporters were wrong--and that your dedication helped keep alive the Cuban people's hopes for a better future.

I think most of you in the audience tonight would agree with me that President George W. Bush has a unique and intuitive understanding of Castro's nature and the tragic fate that has befallen Cuba. This President needed no learning curve on Castro.

President Bush knew from the outset, just as Ronald Reagan knew, that the only way you treat a bully like Castro is by rejection, isolation, and pressure.

That pressure reached a high point earlier this year when the President's Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), chaired throughout by Secretary of State Colin Powell, released the first comprehensive U.S. Government strategy to assist the Cuban people in hastening the day of freedom in Cuba and to prepare the United States to support Cuba's democratic transition.

I was proud to participate in the preparation of that report, and tonight, some 150 days after its release, I am pleased to provide you with an assessment of where we are on the implementation of its recommendations, and to offer some details on the blow for freedom this Administration has struck.

Implementation of CAFC

To hasten the day of Cuba's freedom, the Commission recommended a comprehensive approach--one that pairs a more robust and effective effort to support the opposition in Cuba with measures to limit the regime's manipulation of humanitarian policies and to undermine its survival strategies.

To that end, we have provided an additional $14.4 million--of a proposed $29 million in additional money--to support the development of civil society in Cuba and the empowerment of the Cuban people in their efforts to effect positive change. Six million dollars has already been transferred to USAID to dramatically expand its work with civil society groups.

We are also working with international partners to promote greater international involvement in helping civil society activists by channeling the remaining $8.4 million through a new process designed to tap into the innovative ideas of democracy activists around the world.

We have streamlined licensing requirements so that, for the first time ever, high-speed laptop computers can be delivered to Cuban civil society groups. These deliveries have already begun.

Of course, Castro's agents know this, and we run the risk that such items will wind up in the hands of the regime, but they won't be able to confiscate all of them; and that is why we will continue to move forward in sending this type of equipment to peaceful civil society activists. The regime's "esbirros" are fighting a losing battle, and they know it.

We also have stepped up our efforts to mobilize international diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts to increase international support for Cuban civil society and transition planning. We applaud such initiatives as the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, led by former Czech President Vaclav Havel. Recently, dozens of current and former political leaders from around the world participated in an unprecedented 3-day event in Prague. The resulting "Declaration of Prague" called for the release of all political prisoners, and included harsh condemnations of the Castro regime. President Havel told the press, "Cuba is a giant prison. We have to put up alarm bells around the walls."

Another key component of our strategy is to break Castro's information blockade on the Cuban people and to bring a message of hope to the island.

To circumvent Castro's jamming, Commando Solo, the C-130 aircraft equipped with a powerful electronic transmission capability, has so far flown four times, beaming Radio and TV Marti signals to the island. TV Marti is being seen on the island, by many Cubans for the first time.

Indeed, there is a C-130 flying this weekend, beaming the truth to Cuba, breaking Castro's information blockade on his own people. And these flights will continue.

Yet another pillar in our strategy is to identify long-ignored revenue streams for the Castro regime and then move to degrade them. For example, tourism, which has replaced sugar exports as Cuba's main foreign-exchange earner.

We eliminated the concept of fully-hosted travel and the provision allowing for the import of Cuban goods by U.S. travelers to the island.

We have limited educational travel, putting an end to such abuses as traveling to Cuba for 1 week to study the architecture of Cuban beach resorts.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been granted new authorities to restrict U.S. vessels, including pleasure boats, entering Cuban territorial waters. This new requirement has reduced U.S. pleasure boat traffic at Marina Hemingway by 90%, further cutting into the regime's revenue stream.

And, in a subject area that has drawn the most attention in the Commission's report--we are moving to limit the regime's manipulation of and massive profiteering from U.S. humanitarian policies.

As many of you are aware, to continue to reduce the flow of resources that enable Castro to keep the Cuban people repressed, we have tightened our policy on remittances, gift parcels, and family travel to the island. These avenues had generated an estimated $1.5 billion annually in funds and goods sent to Cuba from those living outside the island.

We recognize that there are some in the community who have expressed deep concerns about the new restrictions. What concerned us was that there existed no effective oversight on travel to the island by Cubans living in the United States. What had developed was a self-defeating situation in which many Cubans had in effect established commuter relationships with the island--living and working part-time here and living and vacationing part-time there--all the while serving as conduits of hard currency to the regime.

For example, of the 176,000 U.S. residents who legally traveled to Cuba last year--and spent about $500 million there--about 128,000 claimed to be visiting family. This was one of the most misused and abused travel categories. Now there are controls.

What is important to remember is that these are a means to an end: the end of the Castro dictatorship.

What I want to emphasize tonight is that these measures are having a dramatic impact on Castro's ability to economically sustain his regime.

We estimate that, since the June 30th implementation of the new travel, remittance, and gift package measures, we have deprived the Castro regime of over $100 million dollars in hard currency. That's $100 million less that Castro has to repress his people and keep his grip on power.

Moreover, by projecting these numbers over a full calendar year, we estimate a net annual loss to the regime of some $375 million--and that's just from reduced travel.

When factoring in the decline in all revenue flows, we estimate we will have denied the regime at least half a billion dollars that Castro would have used to support his security and intelligence apparatus.

A successful transition to democracy in Cuba also means working to undermine Fidel Castro's succession strategy, whereby Castroism would continue in Cuba without Fidel Castro.

The Commission recommended efforts to place pressure on the ruling Cuban elite so that succession is seen for what it would be: an impediment to a democratic and free Cuba.

Among these pressure points is the establishment of a database of those involved in torture and other serious human rights abuses, including those involved in the torture of American POWs in Southeast Asia, to prevent these individuals from ever entering the United States.

And, finally, not to overlook the other 90% of the Commission report, dealing with a post-Castro transition, we are actively reviewing the specific policy and legal issues that would arise in the early moments of such a transition. This review is consistent with our long-standing policy to provide support to societies in transition, such as assistance provided in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and to Central and South America as those countries moved from authoritarian dictatorships with command-style economies to new democracies based on the rule of law and a market economy.

Our goal is to position the U.S. Government to respond effectively and agilely, should such assistance be requested by a free Cuba. The State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, working with the newly established State Department Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, is coordinating a comprehensive inter-agency action plan that could serve to inform policy-makers. We are working today to ensure that the U.S. Government is prepared to the greatest extent possible for the day of transition to a free Cuba, and the work of the Commission was the most thorough and rigorous effort to date to prepare for this transition.

Beyond CAFC Our list of accomplishments is long, and it is one we are extremely proud of. Beyond the Cuba Commission report, let me just quickly review the rest of the record:

* President Bush has repeatedly told Congress that he will veto any legislation that weakens U.S. economic sanctions against the Cuban regime--and he has yet to receive a bill containing any such language.
* We have instituted a policy to deny entry into the United States of Cuban performers whose appearances and sales enrich the regime.
* After years of coast-to-coast propaganda tours by Castro's officials, the Bush Administration put an end to those trips. No more luncheons, no more meetings, no more rallies for Castro. We could not be less afraid of their message, and we have complete confidence in the American people to judge this failed and repressive dictatorship for what it is. The reason we stopped these trips is because U.S. personnel based in Havana cannot engage in similar trips in Cuba. If we can't travel, then Cuban officials shouldn't be able to, either.
* Since November 2002, we have expelled a total of 19 Cuban spies from their Interests Section in Washington and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations. And, Ana Montes, for 16 years a Castro spy in our intelligence community, was arrested, tried, and convicted. We will not turn a blind eye to Castro's extensive espionage operations in the U.S.
* Further, we now treat Cuban diplomatic personnel in Washington on a reciprocal basis to the Cubans' restrictive treatment of U.S. personnel in Havana. We will know where they are going, when they are going, and what they are doing.
* We have directed U.S. Customs to tighten inspections of direct inbound and outbound flights to Cuba. We have accelerated the issuance of civil penalties by OFAC for those who illegally travel to Cuba.
* We actively supported and lobbied for a resolution critical of Cuba's human rights record at the 2004 UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, which passed over intense Cuban opposition. This was the fourth consecutive year that we have won approval for such a resolution.
* The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, ably lead by Jim Cason, continues to provide more support to the opposition than any other diplomatic mission or entity in Cuba. Through U.S.-funded programs, we have distributed hundreds of thousands of printed items, hundreds of magazine subscriptions, and several thousand radios in Cuba.
* In addition, more than 120,000 pounds of food and medicine have been provided to the families of political prisoners and other victims of repression, and we have helped support more than 100 independent libraries inside Cuba.
* Because the Castro regime refuses to discuss several issues important to us, we declined to schedule the 2004 bilateral meetings on migration issues that had been held twice a year since 1994.
* We continue to oppose U.S. financing for Cuban purchases of U.S. agricultural goods, and we request records from exporters to ensure this condition has been met.
* We are actively investigating more than two dozen Helms-Burton Title IV visa sanction cases. The most recent Title IV trafficking determination was made in April. No visa sanctions were imposed because the Jamaican company terminated its commercial involvement with the confiscated property in question. This was the first determination in 5 years. The law was implemented; the law worked.
* We have no doubt that our continued vigilance on foreign investors in Cuba has had a great deal to do with the fact that investment has flat-lined in recent years. According to the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean, new net foreign investment in Cuba for the past 2 years has been zero.
* In yet another area, we are actively working to neutralize Cuban government front companies. We have established a Cuban Asset Targeting Group staffed by law enforcement officials from several agencies to investigate and identify new ways hard currency moves in and out of Cuba, and to stop it.
* We have instituted a policy to deny visas to Cubans involved in the March-April 2003 crackdown and sham trials of 75 peaceful Cuban activists. And to reinforce our objection to the continued wrongful detentions of 68 of those 75 civil society activists, we recently denied visas to 67 Cubans, all of whom are employed by the Cuban government in its so-called university system.

Conclusion This, ladies and gentlemen, is what President Bush and his Administration have done over the past 4 years to challenge the Castro dictatorship, to hasten the end of its repressive grip on the Cuban people, and to encourage the island's rapid, peaceful transition to a democracy that is strongly supportive of fundamental political and economic freedoms.

We are advancing the day when the Cuban people will be free.

We reject out of hand the belief that lifting travel and trade restrictions against Cuba and, in particular, opening up tourism to Cuba, is the answer. Lifting the sanctions now would provide a helping hand to a desperate and repressive regime. Easing sanctions should only take place after there is verifiable movement toward democracy. Anything less would create a financial and political windfall for a decrepit regime.

We believe that the best way to encourage a rapid transition to democracy in Cuba is to close off the Castro regime's economic lifelines and aid the development of Cuba's growing independent civil society.

In approving the Commission's recommendations, President Bush clearly laid out what motivates our policy: "We believe the people of Cuba should be free from tyranny. We believe the future of Cuba is a future of freedom. It's in our nation's interest that Cuba be free. It's in the neighborhood's interest that Cuba be free. More importantly, it's in the interest of the Cuban people that they be free from tyranny."

Ladies and gentlemen, we are indeed working for the day of Cuba's freedom and we are better prepared than ever before to help the Cuban people realize their dreams for a better future.

Thank you very much.


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