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Secretary's Speech


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Monday, September 17, 2007


Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez Remarks at The Heritage Foundation
Washington, D.C.

Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here to kick off the “Cuba at a Crossroads” series. As the co-chair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, I am pleased to have the opportunity to present the Administration’s perspective on Cuba.

Yesterday I returned from an exciting trip to Latin America. I traveled with Members of Congress to see first-hand how pending agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama can help our businesses, farmers, workers and consumers.

In Peru I saw a country shaken by tragedy, but lifted by the international humanitarian aid and the support of the private sector and private investment.

In Panama I saw the opportunities for the $5.2 billion reconstruction of the Panama Canal. I saw jobs, opportunity and investment.

In Colombia I saw former paramilitary members—known in Colombia as the demobilized—being reintegrated back into Colombia society and becoming a part of the formal economy. I heard of the reductions in violence, poverty and mayhem.

In each country I saw opportunity, economic growth and hope spreading amongst our Latin neighbors.

While these countries and others throughout the hemisphere are embracing the promise of democratic reforms and economic freedom, Cuba continues to march in the opposite direction.

In Cuba people remain repressed; the economy remains closed and doors remain tightly shut, shackled by a repressive Communist system.

Cuba is the human rights travesty of the Hemisphere.

Globalization has brought the corners of the world closer together in many ways, but there is still no more important relationship than those we have with our neighbors.

Our vision for the Western Hemisphere is one of open political systems, open trade and investment, and economic opportunity for all. That is why we are actively pursuing trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

The economic case for free trade agreements is clear. Our exports to Latin American FTA countries are up by nearly 60 percent since 2001, outpacing the growth in exports to the rest of Latin America and the world.

And while export growth is important, it’s not the only consideration. Trade goes hand-in-hand with democracy and good governance. And we know that democracy and free trade are necessary to secure prosperity for the people of the Americas.

That’s why we have had widespread engagement throughout the region:

  • Six of the 11 countries with which we’ve implemented free trade agreements have been with Latin American countries.
  • President Bush has taken eight trips to the region, visiting 10 Latin American countries.
  • Thus far in 2007, he has hosted or met with five hemispheric presidents at the White House, Brazilian President Lula da Silva at Camp David, and the Caribbean Community Heads of Government.
  • In August, he met with Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Calderon to discuss how to enhance the security and prosperity of the three sovereign countries of North America.
  • Also this year, in July, the President and Mrs. Bush hosted the first-ever White House Conference on the Americas, recognizing the vast links between our society and those of our neighbors.

There is a competing vision. One that:

  • Spreads poverty, not prosperity.
  • Empowers governments, not people.
  • Discourages creativity, individualism, free-speech, and free markets.

Over the past decades, the Western Hemisphere has moved forward economically and politically. Under the Castro dictatorship, however, Cuba has moved backward.

When the subject of Cuba comes up, the question I’m often asked is this: has the U.S. embargo has worked? My answer is an emphatic yes.

The embargo has denied Castro resources:

  • Denied him funds to export his so-called “Revolution.”
  • Think about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. . . or Angola, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Grenada in the 1980s.

When the Castro regime has had resources, it hasn’t benefited Cubans, but has been an international threat and a threat to its own citizens. The embargo has denied Castro the resources to do damage to this country and other countries in the world.

Whenever he has more resources, the Cuban people haven’t benefited. Only Castro, his cronies, the Cuban military and foreign Communist guerrillas have benefited.

Imagine what he and his brother would have done with greater resources?

President Bush is determined to keep the policy in place and to continue to take initiatives to hasten the Cuban people’s day of freedom.

Our focus must remain on the plight of the Cuban people. This is why the United States authorizes humanitarian donations that reach the Cuban people. Our nation is the largest source of such help.

This is not about U.S. policy—this is about Cuban policy—about the Cuban regime’s treatment of its own people.

When will the Cuban people be free to:

  • Travel abroad and internally.
  • Change jobs and create independent businesses of their choice.
  • Choose the education they want for their children.
  • Visit any hotels or resorts or other tourist areas they wish in their own country.
  • Watch and listen to independent, uncensored television and radio stations.
  • Read any book, magazine or newspaper of their choice.
  • Seek employment with foreign companies on the island.
  • Choose a physician or hospital as they wish.
  • Access the Internet like other free citizens of the Hemisphere can.

When is it going to stop being a crime to be an independent librarian, a person of conscience, a human rights advocate?

When will the regime stop making arrests for the crime of “dangerousness” – a category so vague that a person can be determined to be a criminal simply for the way he or she looks? When will racial inequality end?

It is clear that the restrictions imposed on the Cuban people by the regime have nothing to do with the U.S. embargo or other U.S. policies. They have everything to do with the oppressive Castro regime.

It is ironic that some voices denounce the labor standards of pending FTA countries, while simultaneously calling for the U.S. to engage with Cuba—the Hemisphere’s greatest violator of labor rights, and also the right of all of its citizens.

The Administration’s position has been unfailingly clear and consistent. Unless the regime changes, our policy will not. We are prepared to respond to genuine democratic change in Cuba.

The succession from Fidel to Raul is preservation of a dictatorship. The Cuban people deserve to freely elect their leaders. Like their neighbors throughout Latin America, they deserve the opportunity to take charge of their own destiny.

We recognize that the future of Cuba is in the hands of the citizens in Cuba. Now it is time for the Cuban government to recognize this. The regime needs to have a dialogue with the Cuban people before it has one with the United States.

We stand ready to help the people of Cuba make a transition to a representative democracy. We stand ready to help the Cuban people establish a free market economy. We stand ready to welcome them into the community of democracies.

Thank you. I am happy to take your questions.