U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

OCTOBER 28, 1994

Speech by Assistant Secretary of State
for Inter-American Affairs
Alexander F. Watson
New York, NY
at the
Wall Street Journal Conference on the Americas,
October 28, 1994

It is a pleasure to be with you today. To begin today's discussion on the situation in Cuba, I would like to place Cuba in a hemispheric context.

Had I stood before you even less than a decade ago, a tour d'horizon of the Western Hemisphere would have revealed a totally different picture. At that time, bloody civil wars were taking place in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Non-democratic regimes ruled in Haiti, Suriname, Paraguay and Chile. Human rights abuses were routine in many countries. Many economists in the region still spoke in terms of dependencia and Yankee imperialism. Public sector-dominated economies and runaway inflation were the norm rather than the exception.

What a difference a few years make. Today, peace, democracy and free trade have swept throughout the hemisphere. The Sandinistas and FMLN are the democratic oppositions in their respective countries. Last month, Comandante Joaquin Villalobos of the FMLN addressed the U.S. Army War College. Cheddi Jagan in Guyana -- an advocate of Marxism for over three decades -- supports free trade policies for his country. Sub- regional trading groups are vying to see which can liberalize quickest. You would be hard-pressed to find significant differences on democracy, human rights and free trade between officials of Michael Manley's PNP, the Salvadoran ARENA Party founded by Roberto d'Aubuisson and Peronists in Argentina.

Recognizing this dramatic convergence of views, President Clinton has invited the leaders of 34 out of 35 nations in the hemisphere to Miami six weeks from today to participate in the Summit of the Americas. This largest gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders in history, the first since Punta del Este in 1967, will consolidate this convergence and outline a common plan of action to advance the cause of democracy and bring the region closer to the goal of prosperity.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I said 34 out of 35 countries in the Hemisphere have been invited. One nation in the Hemisphere continues to stand in unsplendid, and self imposed, isolation from its sister nations of the region. That nation is Cuba.

Cuba is the single glaring exception to the movement in the Hemisphere toward greater political freedom, greater respect for human rights, and more open economies. In Cuba, the French would certainly recognize the veracity of their proverb about apparent change often not being real change. Farmers' markets are occasionally tried, discontinued, and dusted off again; foreign investment is shunned and then desperately sought; dollars are banned and then legalized. But in 35 years, there has not been one free newspaper; one legalized opposition political party; one free election.

In the past the Castro regime enjoyed a degree of tacit support -- even encouragement -- from many Latin and Caribbean nations.

Those days are over. Today, Fidel Castro and Cuban Foreign Minister Robaina hear the same message throughout the hemisphere and beyond: to save your country, democratize, respect human rights, open your economy. From the Ibero-American summit to Robaina's recent swing through South America and Europe, Castro and his representatives hear only the same urgent call for reform. The Rio Group, comprising the largest and many smaller countries from Mexico south, which had never officially commented on the internal situation in Cuba, last month called for: "a peaceful transition to a democratic pluralistic system which respects human rights and freedom of opinion." This is a significant statement.

I do not mean to imply that these countries totally support our policy toward Cuba. Many have called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo as well. But I believe virtually all agree that the solution to the Cubans' problems lies not in the fates or beyond Cuba's borders, but rather in themselves. To escape from its current quagmire, the Castro regime clearly must look inward.

Let me clear up some misapprehensions about our policy toward Cuba. We have no designs to overthrow the Castro regime by force. Our goal is a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. We oppose all violent actions. We have no hostile intent toward the Cuban people. Quite the contrary -- the Cuban Democracy Act, which was passed with strong bipartisan support by the Congress in 1992, has the dual intent of putting pressure on the Cuban government for change (what we call Track One), while reaching out to the Cuban people through humanitarian donations and enhanced communications (Track Two).

Track One is the better known of the two. Our embargo, which has been in place since the Kennedy Administration, limits Cuba's ability to acquire the foreign exchange it uses to maintain its economic straitjacket and political grip on the Cuban people. But it is not a blockade as inaccurately charged by the Cuban regime and does not prevent Cuba from trading with any other nation in the world.

The Cuban regime has stated that it sees the success of the recent migration talks as the first step toward a broader dialogue with the United States, leading to normalization of relations and a lifting of the embargo. That is emphatically not the case. We have repeatedly stated that, only when the Cuban government implements meaningful political and economic reforms, will we respond with carefully calibrated measures.

When the regime takes concrete steps to end the monopoly of power of the communist party, to protect non-violent dissent, and to open the command economy, we will take appropriate steps. But we will not take steps in the uncertain hope that progress will follow automatically in Cuba. There is no historical basis for that hope. So we will not precipitously and prematurely lift the embargo. It has been -- and still is -- our strongest leverage for democratic reform inside Cuba. We will not help Fidel Castro hold on to power against the will of the Cuban people.

The accomplishments on Track Two of our policy are far less known. Since passage of the CDA, we have licensed over 50 million dollars of private humanitarian assistance to Cuba -- making the American people one of the largest donors to the Cuban people during this period. We encourage and work to facilitate such assistance with many NGO's, including groups that may not agree with our overall policy, but nevertheless share our interest in getting aid to the most needy individuals and NGO's in Cuba. We will intensify these efforts, and are urging our allies who provide assistance to Cuba to channel their aid to deserving NGO's.

Contrary to popular myth, the sale or donation of almost all U.S.- manufactured medicines to Cuba is permitted so long as they are not re- exported, used in the biotechnology industry or for torture. The well- publicized decay of Cuba's health care system is not caused by the embargo, but by Castro's refusal to change a disastrous economic system.

The CDA called for the establishment of improved telecommunications between the U.S. and Cuba. We took appropriate steps and, on October 4, the FCC, with the Department of State's encouragement and concurrence, approved applications by U.S. telecommunications companies for authority to provide direct telephone service between the U.S. and Cuba. Communications between the United States and the Cuban people will be greatly expanded in the near future -- perhaps as soon as next month.

We will continue to seek additional ways of expanding contacts between the people of our two nations. We plan to authorize American news organizations to establish permanent bureaus in Cuba. And we will continue to permit individual travel to and from Cuba for genuine humanitarian and human rights purposes, and for legitimate educational and research purposes.

To meet the hunger for information in Cuba, the United States will maintain the increased broadcasting to Cuba announced by the President on August 20. We are also stepping up our donations of books to Cuban institutions. There are no U.S. restrictions on sending to or receiving from Cuba informational materials, and I encourage all who can to make such donations.

It is indeed ironic that today, Haiti, the poorest country in our hemisphere with virtually no democratic tradition, has a democratically- elected leader and considerable hope for the future, while its richer neighbor to the West harbors no such hopes. Although the situations in Haiti and Cuba are in most ways distinct, there is one common theme: the Cuban people, like the Haitians, want to enjoy the most basic of rights, and the opportunity to build economic prosperity after years of despair. Like the Haitians, our Cuban neighbors deserve freedom. And Cubans, with all their skills and talents, should not be left behind while their neighbors prosper and enjoy the benefits of expanded hemispheric trade.

In stark contrast to Haiti, there is no movement toward democracy in Cuba. For 35 years, Cubans have lived under dictatorship. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he promised elections within 18 months. Three decades later the Cuban people still wait for the chance to choose their own representatives. Castro rules through repression and intimidation. Cubans cannot speak freely. They cannot meet freely or organize freely. They have no recourse against governmental abuse.

At the same time, the Cuban economy has gone into free fall, with the Cuban people the victims. The end of the 6 billion dollar annual subsidy from the Soviet Union has exposed the fundamental inefficiencies of Castro's command economy. The regime's inability to meet the needs of the Cuban people has been laid bare. Factories are closing, under- and unemployment may be approaching 40%. This year's sugar harvest was the worst since 1918. Foreign trade has fallen by 75%. In the 1950's, for all its political and social problems, Cuba had a per capita income among the very highest in Latin America; today it is among the very lowest. Beginning last year we saw some tentative steps toward economic reform. Such measures as dollarization and limited self-employment have enjoyed modest success. But rather than being embraced by the regime as initial steps on a journey to a bright future, these modest measures are officially described as "regrettable and temporary."

The most recent visible symptom of the failure of the regime to provide hope for a better life to the Cuban people was the massing of thousands in Old Havana, the city's heart, on August 5 to find transport out of the country. Castro's response to the demonstration that day -- the most striking opposition event since he took power-- was to lift controls on rafters -- a cynical move to get rid of the messengers of despair rather than address the cause of despair. Tens of thousands of Cubans -- men, women, even small children and old people -- risked their lives in flimsy rafts. Tragically, many perished.

From the outset of the migration crisis the Clinton administration's most immediate goal was to stop this dangerous, uncontrolled outflow and to save lives. To that end, we reached an agreement on September 9 with the government of Cuba under which it pledged to take effective action to prevent unsafe and irregular departures. For our part, we will ensure that legal migration from Cuba increases to at least 20,000 per year. There are residual problems stemming from the rafter exodus; in particular, the situation in Guantanamo. These issues should not distract us from the real problem - - the dire situation in Cuba that provoked this crisis -- nor from our fundamental goal: a peaceful transition to democracy, respect for the human rights of the Cuban people and an open economy with opportunity for all.

Cuba floats at sea and must choose the destination to which it will sail. The people of Cuba must set their course. But we are ready to help them go the way of their neighbors in the region. We look forward to the day when we will be able to work with a freely elected Cuban government and welcome Cuba back into the community of democratic nations.

So the Summit of the Americas will take place in six weeks with the presence of all our sister nations of the Hemisphere except one. Thirty-four nations which share the values of democracy, human rights and prosperity for all their citizens. Let us not forget what made this hemisphere different from the Old World: a recognition of the rights of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those values are as relevant today as they were 200 years ago. And, in our half of the globe, Cubans are without hope that they are on their way to fulfillment. Thank you.


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