Biden: "we can act creatively to encourage positive trends and demonstrate support for the Cuban people"
May 27, 2014
Yoani Sanchez, 14yMedio
Q: The Cuban government has recently passed a new foreign direct investment law that has been met with both criticism and a certain level of expectation. Will this law spur any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, specifically as it relates to American citizens’ ability to invest on the island?
A: U.S. policy toward Cuba is guided by a commitment to support the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future and advance U.S. interests and promote universal values.
Since President Obama took office, we have demonstrated that we are willing to promote pragmatic changes to our Cuba policies that benefit our interests and the Cuban people. Our travel, remittance, and people-to-people policies are bridging the gap between divided Cuban families and are promoting the freer flow of information and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people. These measures help put resources in the hands of the Cuban people and help to foster, in the President’s words, “spaces of freedom” in Cuba.
We note the Cuban government’s changes to its investment laws, and hope that such efforts to attract foreign investment to Cuba will be accompanied by expanded rights and freedoms for the Cuban people to allow them to realize their full potential.
Q: Even when Cubans are able to circumvent the censorship and high prices of internet connection, we still lack access to a number of services and websites due to current U.S. law. This includes access to the online stores for Android or iOS applications as well as select Google services. Is there any possibility of lessening these restrictions on average Cubans by opening up technology and information avenues such as these in the near future?
A: We will keep looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity and to help remove obstacles that stand in the way of open communication and free expression. In 2010, the United States eased restrictions and allowed greater access by people in Cuba to free services that help people connect through the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat, and email. We also changed our policies in 2009 to make it easier for U.S. citizens to donate cell phones and other electronics to people in Cuba and encourage U.S. companies to offer fiber optic and satellite communications services in Cuba, and we started talks with the Cuban government to set up direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. We want Cuban citizens to be able to communicate more easily with each other and with the outside world, so we welcome information about problems that may be arising as ordinary Cubans try to use the Internet and connection technologies.
Q: In 2009, in an interview I conducted with President Obama, I asked him of a possible American invasion of Cuba. His answer was a categorical “no.” Our government officials, nonetheless, continue to cover this topic every time they assemble at the Plaza of the Revolution, telling Cuba and the world that the U.S. has a plan to overthrow the Cuban government. An assault that, in their opinion, is imminent. More than the official responses from one government or another, I would like a simple answer for my son. What do I tell him when he asks? Should we be concerned?
A: I can give you the simplest of answers, and that answer is no. Just as President Obama said.
We support the evolution of a prosperous, secure, and democratic Cuba and we will continue to support courageous Cuban citizens who seek to exercise their freedoms. It is our firm position that only Cuban citizens can or should determine Cuba’s future. These accusations are a relic of the distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cubans who might otherwise focus on problems closer to home. The Cuban people deserve more honesty from their government.
Q: During the last few months, the word “creative” has been used repeatedly by the U.S. government to refer to the new demands of U.S. policy toward Cuba. I am curious as to whether you could give me more detail regarding what this word actually means in this context.
A: President Obama has noted that he was not yet born when the United States initiated the embargo on trade with Cuba. Our objective is to promote positive change on the island so that Cuban citizens can enjoy normal, productive lives in their own country, have the freedom to express their views, and benefit from an inclusive, democratic political system. We have seen positive movement in some areas, such as the increased ability of Cubans to travel abroad, but we remain deeply concerned by the continued arrest and abuse of Cuban citizens for exercising freedoms that are protected elsewhere in the Americas.
The question is how we can act creatively to encourage positive trends and demonstrate support for the Cuban people while continuing to press for improved human rights conditions. Our view is that the President’s measures to facilitate family travel, people to people contacts, communications, remittances, and humanitarian donations have had a positive effect and have contributed to the welfare of Cuban citizens. Similarly, our work with the Cuban government on matters of mutual interest has benefitted citizens in both countries. We established these policy changes while continuing to stand for our values and encouraging democratic reforms in Cuba.
Finally, I cannot emphasize enough that Cuba’s continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to improved relations between the United States and Cuba. We can be as creative as we like with our policy, but Alan’s case remains at the top of our list for resolution. He deserves to come home, and should be released on humanitarian grounds.