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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: 5 Questions with U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo on Cuba & Latin America
Latin American genius Carlos Alberto Montaner interviews U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

1. Traditionally, U.S. foreign policy in relation to Cuba was based on the strategy of “containment of communism.” In the Cuban case that translated into diplomatic isolation, economic embargo (limited) and dissemination of information about the excesses of the dictatorship and its social and economic failures.

Critics claimed that it had not “worked” after more than half a century of being put into practice.

In December 2014, President Obama surprised the world by replacing that strategy with engagement, despite his promise that the U.S. would not move from its position if the regime did not take steps toward political openness.

Far from accepting the change of position of the United States, the Cuban regime increased repression against dissidents, raised economic claims for the consequences of the embargo that were absolutely out of place, and continued on the path of political Stalinism.

Predictably, the engagement didn’t “work” either.

The questions that arise from these premises are: Does the State Department realize that 90 miles from U.S. shores there is a tenacious enemy that must be eliminated? How far is the current administration willing to go to achieve that goal? Have they tried to achieve a bipartisan consensus in that regard? It is not a partisan issue. It is about the security of the United States.

First I want to send my congratulations to the Cuban people on the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana. Despite the past 60 years of suffering and economic damage inflicted by the Castro regime, Cuba remains a country of great history and immense potential. This occasion is an opportunity to turn the page and begin the next chapter of Cuba’s story – and one promising stability, prosperity, and freedom for the Cuban people.

Cuba is a foreign policy priority for the Trump administration. The President’s National Security Memorandum of June 2017, which laid out our policy to support the Cuban people while holding the Cuban regime accountable for both its human rights abuses at home, and its destabilizing interference elsewhere in the region, was only the beginning.

Since then, we have imposed further sanctions on the Cuban regime, including removing an authorization for group ‘people-to-people’ travel, stopping U.S. passenger and recreational vessels like cruise ships, yachts, and private aircraft from traveling to Cuba, and ending scheduled U.S. air carrier service to all Cuban airports except Havana. We took these actions because the Cuban people do not largely profit from such exchanges – the regime does. All of these actions are designed to keep U.S. dollars from lining the pockets of the Cuban military -- the very same people repressing the Cuban people at home, supporting Maduro in Venezuela, and who are aligned with Putin in Russia.

2. The policy of economic sanctions against the Havana regime has returned because of Cuba’s military support, mainly intelligence, to the regimes of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Is the current Administration willing to impose a naval blockade to prevent the supply of Venezuelan oil to Cuba?

Cuba’s interference in Venezuela and other countries in the region is totally unacceptable. Particularly egregious is the involvement of Cuban military and intelligence services who prop up the despot Maduro, in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil. This oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, who are suffering greatly under the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis that Maduro’s corruption and mismanagement created. Maduro’s use of oil to pay for Cuba’s meddling and abuses is theft on a grand scale and is illegal under Venezuelan law. We continue to seek new ways to limit this illegal exchange. The United States is currently focused on the tools of diplomacy and sanctions to build pressure for a democratic transition in Venezuela. We have made over 200 Venezuela-related designations since 2017, under the Kingpin Act and various executive orders. These actions hinder the illegitimate Maduro regime from using the U.S. financial system for its corrupt and socially destructive economic practices and impose a cost on the regime for its illicit practices, human rights violations, and corruption.

3. The “Cuban case” cannot be separated from the “Venezuelan case.” Havana totally rules Venezuela. Obviously, Washington’s “passive” participation is not enough, and Latin American nations lack an active tradition to eradicate an imperialist nation like Venezuela-Cuba. It is not about the United States landing troops in the country, but it is expected that it will be able to destroy the Venezuelan defenses from the air while other Latin American nations occupy the terrain militarily. Do you, Mr. Secretary, consider such a scenario?

The Cuban regime has made it clear that it not only supports, but is responsible for, the Maduro regime’s abuses of power. The United States remains resolute in actively supporting a peaceful transition to democracy, freedom, and rule of law in Venezuela. President Trump has said that all options are on the table in Venezuela, including a military option, but at the State Department we are currently focused on deploying all of our diplomatic and economic options to support interim President Guaido and the National Assembly in a peaceful restoration of democracy, freedom, and rule of law. We’ve said very clearly all along that we’re going to do all that we can to restore democracy for the Venezuelan people, and we are working closely with partners around the world to make that a reality. Nevertheless, the United States is determined to keep every option on the table to restore that democracy.

4. In the case of Bolivia, Cuban interference is also flagrant. The current Cuban ambassador is a colonel specialized in intelligence and repression called Rafael Zamora, nicknamed “Zamora the Rooster (El Gallo Zamora)”, who has recommended Evo Morales “to wait until the Americans get tired”, the same strategy they follow in Venezuela with Maduro and has worked in Cuba. Are Americans going to “get tired” or is there a policy of increasing sanctions until the will of Bolivians is respected in free elections?

It is certainly true that the Cuban presence can be felt across the region. Ecuador recently expressed concerns that the Cubans were interfering in their sovereign territory, and we have seen how the Cuban regime has historically interfered in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela. We are monitoring quickly unfolding events in Bolivia and the departure of Evo Morales and other members of the Bolivian government. We call on everyone to refrain from violence during this tense time and we will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that Bolivia’s democracy and constitutional order endure. The Bolivian people deserve free and fair elections that respect their constitution. We commend the professional work of the Organization of American States (OAS) technical mission which found numerous egregious irregularities with Bolivia’s October 20 elections, committed on behalf of Evo Morales. We fully support the OAS and Bolivian calls for new elections and a new Electoral Tribunal that can ensure free and fair elections that reflect the will of the Bolivian people.

5. At the beginning of the crisis, Daniel Ortega seemed determined to advance the elections and leave if the results were adverse to him. After hundreds of murders, does Washington contemplate that possibility or thinks that everything is lost? If so, what will the current US administration do?

The United States’ position regarding Nicaragua is clear: the Ortega regime must cease its repression and respond to Nicaraguans’ call for genuinely free and fair elections that are both transparent and timely. The regime’s repression has caused more than 70,000 Nicaraguans to flee into exile since April 2018. The Ortega regime’s unilateral decision to abandon the national dialogue process in July betrayed its true intentions. The United States is working through diplomacy and sanctions to bring a peaceful resolution to Nicaragua’s political and economic crisis. The OAS has appointed a Commission on Nicaragua, consisting of representatives from the United States, Argentina, Canada, Jamaica, and Paraguay, to carry out diplomatic efforts at the highest level to seek a peaceful and effective solution to the crisis. The United States sanctioned three Nicaraguan officials on November 7 for human rights abuses, electoral fraud, and corruption. We have sanctioned 14 individuals and one entity since the start of the crisis.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is a review of Las raíces torcidas de América Latina (The Twisted Roots of Latin America), published by Planeta and available in Amazon, in printed or digital version.


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