Cuba PolicyThomas A. Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Cuba Transition Coordinator Caleb Charles McCarry
August 11, 2006
MR. WATNIK: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for joining us on such short notice. We apologize for the short notice. My name is Eric Watnik. I am the Deputy Press Secretary in Western Hemisphere Affairs. I would like to introduce to you Assistant Secretary Thomas A. Shannon and Cuba Transition Coordinator Caleb Charles McCarry. This briefing is on the record, but it is off-camera.
With that, I'd like to introduce the Assistant Secretary, who would like to make a brief opening statement, and then we will take questions. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Okay. Well, thank you all very much for being here and we wanted to give you a chance to talk with us about what's happening in Cuba and our larger Cuba policy. Obviously, we, along with the rest of the world, are looking towards Havana with great interest and expectation. We don't know how events in Havana will play out in regard to the health of Fidel Castro, but it is evident that what has happened is the beginning of political change in Cuba.
The question that we and that the Cuban people face and that the larger international community faces is what kind of change it would be. The President has been clear, since the beginning of his Administration, as has the Secretary of State, about what we think that change should look like, that it should be a transition to democracy, that it should be a transition driven by the Cuban people, and that the international community, in keeping with commitments that it has made in a variety of multilateral documents, but most importantly, within the Inter-American system, through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, that we need to find a means to help the Cuban people create a political space within Cuba where they can begin a national dialogue about Cuba's future and have in front of them both the guarantees of political liberty and the mechanisms necessary to conduct elections so that they can freely express their views and opinions as to who their leader should be.
We think it's an important moment for Cuba. We think it's an important movement for all those who are committed to democracy. And it is our hope to be able to play a helpful role in this process. As you will recall, in 2002, President Bush, in a speech about Cuba, effectively laid out what Cuba should do if we were to address the larger issue of embargoing sanctions, and that was, release political prisoners' guaranteed fundamental freedoms, allow economic freedoms and independence, and establish a clear pathway towards elections. It was an offer presented in good faith, an offer rejected at the time by Fidel Castro.
In the aftermath of that, the President announced the formation of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which as you know, has released two reports. These reports not only provide kind of an x-ray of Cuban society, the Cuban state, and the Cuban economy and lay out the areas in which the United States could play a helpful role in engaging with a democratic government of Cuba, but also laid out a strategy in which the United States was intent on helping Cubans move towards democracy by providing resources to democratic forces within Cuba, by attempting to deny resources to a regime that would be used to repress those democratic forces, and to open Cuban society and break down the information blockade that Fidel Castro and his government have sought to impose on Cuban society.
As you know, the Administration has committed significant resources against that. Following the first CAFC report, the Administration committed $49 million. Following the second CAFC report, we've committed $80 million for a total of $129 million. This is significant resources. I think it underscores our commitment to the Cuban people, our commitment to democracy in Cuba. And it is our hope that we will be able to continue this activity; that we'll be able to work with our partners in the hemisphere and more broadly internationally, and help the Cuban people have an opportunity to determine their own future by, as I discussed earlier, focusing on winning release of political prisoners, guaranteeing fundamental political and human rights in Cuba, creating an environment in which Cubans can unlock their enormous economic potential and at the same time, laying out, clearly, a pathway towards elections that will allow Cubans to choose their own government and through that, be able to reintegrate themselves into the inter-American system and into the community of democratic nations.
MR. MCCARRY: No, I just would simply add that what Assistant Secretary Shannon has said is reflected in the recent report on the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and I would draw your attention specifically to a document which is the Compact With the People of Cuba, which is a very simple, straightforward message of hope directed to the Cuban people pledging the support of the United States for a process that is defined and led by Cubans that leads to the restoration of their fundamental freedoms and the opportunity for Cubans themselves to define a democratic future for their country and to reclaim their sovereignty through free and fair elections.
MR. WATNIK: Ladies and gentlemen, before asking questions, please state your name and the organization you're with.
QUESTION: The 2004 report said it was the official policy to subvert or disrupt the succession from Fidel to Raul. What is being done to implement that? And could you tell us how these funds that you referred to, the 49 million and the 80 million -- the 80 million apparently is prospective, it has to be approved by the Congress. What plans do you have for that? That seems to me like a lot of money for a relatively small number of groups in the country.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Okay. Well, I'll let Caleb discuss how the money is envisioned in terms of its use, as some of it is already spent, obviously, the 49 million from the first report. But he can talk more broadly about the 80 million from the second report.
What's important about our understanding of a transition to democracy is that regimes never hand over power. Regimes always look for a way to create some path towards succession. And we anticipate that this regime will attempt that; in fact, is attempting that, is using this period of time to begin that kind of institutional transfer. But that ultimately, this transfer won't work, that ultimately, that there is no political figure inside of Cuba who matches Fidel Castro, that the ability of the remaining Cuban leadership to create or coalesce political power will be difficult, that it will be inherently unstable. And that in this kind of environment, it is important that the international community understand that the key to stability in Cuba, the key to Cuba being a reliable partner in the international community is democracy, is allowing the Cuban people an opportunity to choose its leadership, which essentially is what President Oscar Arias said the other day, when he noted that after 47 years of revolutionary regime, maybe it's time to give the Cuban people an opportunity to choose their leadership.
You want to talk about that new money?
MR. MCCARRY: Sure. Essentially, the $80 million in the report of the Commission for Assistance to Free Cuba is intended to provide support to increase the flow of independent information to the island. You all, Iím sure, have seen the reports. The government is planning to crack down on people holding satellite dishes. This is a regime which fears a free flow of information. So therefore, the funding is intended to step up our broadcasting to Cuba and also to help provide technologies that allow Cubans, for example, uncensored access to the internet.
In addition, the funding is designed to provide support fundamentally for opening space on the island for Cubans to define their future. It is -- this is a matter for Cubans to resolve. It is their nation. They must lead the way forward. There are brave Cubans, at great risk to themselves, who are speaking right now about their views and their desires for a democratic future for their country. I draw your attention, for example, to recent plans which were put forward by Oswaldo Paya and also by Martha Beatriz Roque and the Assembly for Civil Society. There are Cubans in Cuba who are talking about a democratic transition and the purpose of our assistance is to support the efforts of Cubans to successfully define a path that leads to free and fair elections and a future of prosperity for the country.
QUESTION: Could you tell us, like, anything you know about Fidelís circumstances now? And I donít believe that his brother Raul has even surfaced since this transition. What do you make of this kind of no-profile that theyíre having?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I guess Iíd say that thereís a lot of speculation. At this point, the fact that Fidel Castro has not been seen is indicative, obviously, of a serious medical condition. We donít know how serious. We donít know what the level of recovery is. And itís -- weíre really not in a position to predict, you know, what the result of this is going to be. And in that context, I think itís important to underscore that where we are in our policy, at this point, is really consistent with what weíve been doing all along, which is pushing for a transition to democracy and trying to create a political space within Cuba where Cubans can actually begin to have a dialogue among themselves about their future.
And in that regard, while we might be at a moment of great change, we might also be at a moment of, actually, the regime hardening as it attempts to assert its control and that, therefore, you know, our -- the importance of policy consistency in this environment is very important. And I think that with the CAPC Reports, with the resources, you know, that have been identified in that report, weíve got a clear policy, weíve got a plan, weíve got resources. And the question is just to keep pushing.
QUESTION: Iíve read the second report. I havenít read the first one, but the second one is probably the most to come to bear. How do you convince the Cuban people in Cuba that they're not going to be left hanging in the wind, as those in Tiananmen Square were left? They spoke out against a very repressive regime. They, too, countered on assurances that had been given by the U.S. for pro-democracy; didn't happen. How can you get that message across to the Cuban people who won't see the report, who won't understand the resources that are kind of there, but not yet out of the woodwork?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I think ultimately, it's not up to us to convince the Cuban people to assert their fundamental rights. It's up to the Cuban people to do that. And in this regard, what we can offer or what I think the international community can offer is a clear show of solidarity and support and to indicate, you know, through our larger commitment to instruments like the Inter-American Democratic Charter, through our compact with the Cuban people, through the offers that we have made of humanitarian assistance and through the clear indications that we've sent that a democratic Cuba's reentry into the Inter-American system is not just a political reentry into the Americas, but it's also an economic reentrance and that ultimately we will be talking about not just the democratic institutions of Cuba, but its prosperity and its ability to be a vibrant member of an economic community. We recognize that a transition democracy is going to be a process. And we can't predict all the twists and turns of the process. But as Caleb noted, this is ultimately in the hands of the Cubans and it's going to be for them to measure the -- kind of the speed and direction with which they can individually and collectively push on a regime which has for 47 years dominated them through fear and violence.
QUESTION: What I'm not hearing, though, is that the Cuban people have long memories, not only 47 years, but more recently to Tiananmen Square. If you don't like the comparison, that's fine, I'll understand why you don't want to go there. But we do have a case where people are scared to talk and it's not a matter of forming a committee somewhere and saying, okay, we're going to declare ourselves some space because the U.S. has created it for us. How can they feel empowered to do so?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I think in many ways you have to ask them that and not us because ultimately, it's the Cuban people themselves who have to take this action. It's the Cuban people themselves who have to determine how they step out. But what's evident, I think -- and Caleb, you might want to comment on this -- is that despite the decades of repression, that there obviously are Cubans in Cuba who are prepared to do that and who are prepared to do it not only at risk to themselves, but at great consequence. Through prison terms, through intimidation, through harassment and that what's encouraging is the recognition that democratic civil society does exist in Cuba and that it has had a resonance and a reach within Cuba which is striking, given the environment it operates in.
MR. MCCARRY: Tom's correct. In fact, just even recently, there have been a number of not only opposition leaders, dissidents, but also Cubans who from jail, given an opportunity to make a phone call, have used that has an opportunity to speak about the need for freedom in their country. The commitment and courage of these Cubans is certainly inspiring and deserves the full measure of our support to stand with them.
QUESTION: Have you had any indications other than nobody's seen the two of them in public for a week, whether or not there are any other signs of trouble inside of Cuba and what will be the government policy in terms of if you did begin to see a wobble in the government? Obviously, a lot of the Cuban exiled communities would like the U.S. to do a little bit, be a little bit more proactive in terms of helping to speed things up.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, I don't want to kind of address kind of a hypothetical situation of what might happen in the future in terms of how the Cuban Government is responding to events or not. But in terms of the first part of the question, I guess I'd say that this is just a period of real uncertainty in Cuba and a period of great interest outside of Cuba, as people try to understand what's happening. And Again, the lack of visibility, I think, indicates the seriousness of the condition, but also indicates I believe a -- that an effort has begun to try to coalesce or foster some institutional transfer of power and that it's a hard process in an authoritarian regime. You have to understand that authoritarian regimes are like helicopters. There are single fail point mechanisms. When a rotor comes off a helicopter, it crashes. When a supreme leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the authoritarian regime flounders. It doesn't have the direction that it requires. And I think that's what we're seeing at this moment.
QUESTION: It did happen in China, to bring up that question once again. There have been successive authoritarian leaders --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah, the difference is, is that the authoritarianism with China is not individual -- individualist. It is an organizational authoritarianism. The Chinese authoritarianism, through the Communist Party, went through a variety of leadership changes, to the point that it had created mechanisms which were bureaucratic. That hasn't happened in Cuba. Cuba is the only revolutionary country out there that still has the original revolutionary leader. And so it has not gone through the kind of bureaucratic development that the Eastern European countries went through, that the Soviet Union went through, and that China went through.
QUESTION: The U.S. has long had a plan, a contingency plan, to prevent a mass migration. Can you just -- what can you tell me about what -- how that would work? And also about these reports that there might -- there's consideration of making it easier for relatives of those here to come to the U.S., what's the thinking if -- on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Unfortunately, we're going to have to point you at the Department of Homeland Security to talk about the migration issues. You know, this is really their purview and they're the best kind of place to discuss not only, you know, the mechanisms that would be used, you know, to enhance our interdiction capabilities, but also they're the ones who have the jurisdictional authority over the determination of how our policy is adapted within kind of current guidelines and regulations.
QUESTION: There's no link between, sort of, the migration issues and transition issues, in your mind?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, there could be. But at this point, I'd just point you to DHS.
QUESTION: Following up on that, there had been an idea that there could be an announcement of those migration issues at DHS as early as today. Any idea when the Administration may do that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Again, I'll point you at DHS.
QUESTION: Hugo Chavez from Venezuela is one of the main supporter of the Cuban regime. What would do -- the United States in case he interferes in this process?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, it's not a question of what the United States would do; it's a question of, I think, what the Cuban people themselves would do and what the larger community would do. It's our hope that -- you know, that Venezuela, as a signatory of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, you know, would join the rest of the hemisphere in expressing the hope for a successful transition to democracy. So, I mean, we're going to have to wait and see, you know, what happens as we get kind of deeper into this scenario and what the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba is. But I would argue that at one level, that -- you know, the relationship is really a relationship between Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and that what the relationship between Hugo Chavez and a Cuba without Fidel Castro would be is not defined.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Non-Align Movement summit to go on as planned and what will you be looking for as far as, might that be Raul's first public appearance? You know, that's speculative.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: You know, that's a very good question and we really don't know what's going to happen, because so much depends on this -- the result of this health crisis, you know, whatever you want to call it. I'm not quite sure what to call it at this point. But, you know, we haven't seen, kind of, any indications that Cuba is at all focused on the Non-Align Movement meeting at this point. I think they're very, very kind of wrapped up and involved in their own internal issues and I guess we're going to have to see over the next couple of weeks, you know, what happens.
QUESTION: What do you make of the statement that came up-- I can't remember if it was Monday or late last week -- by this Mr. Romano who said -- who wanted to apparently stick a finger in the U.S. eye and say, ah, there's been a peaceful transition in Cuba now and, you know, something the United States didn't expect. And then that was supposedly retracted. Did you follow that? It may have just been a blip, but there was a statement -- a public statement made that there had been a peaceful transition in Cuba.
MR. MCCARRY: Peaceful succession from one military dictator to another?
QUESTION: Yes, succession, right. Well, of course, those weren't their words. But is that -- and actually, Sean responded to that from the podium a little bit. But then supposedly, Mr. Romano was told to say that he had spoken out of turn. You donít have any background on that? Caleb, do you remember any details?
MR. MCCARRY: No. I just think it underscores, kind of, the uncertainty at the moment and the fact that, you know, as I mentioned earlier, in an authoritarian regime, when a supreme leader is either incapacitated or dead, everybody else is frozen. And itís very difficult for them to make public statements about not only the well being of Fidel Castro, but also the well being of the regime.
QUESTION: And what did it tell you about the fact that he postponed his birthday celebrations and -- you know, other revolution parties, but said that he plans to come back? Do you think that thatís just something he has to say, not -- or you really have no information as to whether he will be making a recovery or not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Like all regimes of this nature, theyíre very opaque, and itís very difficult to kind of peer into them and see whatís happening. And whatís striking here is that this is the Western Hemisphere, okay? This is a hemisphere which has committed itself to democracy, which has committed itself to individual freedoms, including freedom of the press. It is a hemisphere which is accustomed to having the free flow of information and news. And it is striking that in this one instance, nobody has any news.
In fact, as Caleb mentioned, this is a regime which has outlawed satellite TV dishes and threatens people with prison for satellite TV dishes, which is kind of -- I think, a pretty remarkable comment on where the regime is at this moment.
QUESTION: But that means going in. It doesnít seem like we have much news coming out either.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah, no, thatís it. I mean, it's nothing.
QUESTION: Nobody being us as well?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah, I mean, nobody has any access. I mean, itís just a very kind of opaque place.
MR. WATNIK: We can take one more question.
QUESTION: Building on Teriís point about the information flow, does any of this money build some of the new technologies that might not be obvious to the regime, like WI-FI internet connectivity? I mean we had fax machines that helped organized Tiananmen. That was new and the Chinese leaders didnít know what was going on with -- satellite dishes, are you like, dropping them like leaflets on the scene and having people at least be able to keep touch? I mean, tell us about the technology that this money might be buying.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I canít get into a lot of details. But what I can tell you is that, of course, there are, you know, technologies and new technologies that can help people get access to -- freely to independent sources of information. And weíre committed to supporting the Cuban people, providing them with access to independent information to support their efforts to define a democratic future for their country. We donít imagine that a succession from one military dictator to another is an acceptable outcome for the Cubans.
QUESTION: For the Cubans.
MR. WATNIK: One more.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah, George.
QUESTION: Your fondest desire is to see the emergence of a leader who will guide Cuba toward democracy, free and fair elections, and the things you talked about now. We are a long, long way from seeing that happen. How do you see that unfolding?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Iím not sure our fondest desire is for a leader, a single leader. Cubaís had a single leader for 47 years. I think our fondest desire is to make sure that with -- that weíre able to help create a political space in which Cubans can start talking to each other about the future. Because what the regime has been doing for years is trying, first, to close political space and then to divide political groups, to prevent dialogue, to prevent any synergy among dissidents. And this is one of the reasons why there is not an over-arching figure, such as a Lech Walesa, in Cuba at this point, but there are a series of very courageous, very articulate individuals who have worked hard to build a democratic civil society and dissident movements. And what we believe the international community should be working towards is creating an environment that allows these groups to begin to communicate with each other and then to communicate more broadly with the Cuban people.
And the way you do that is by eliminating fear and intimidation from the scene. And we think that very simple steps such as freeing political prisoners, guaranteeing political rights, especially freedom of expression and freedom of association, will help allow this dialogue to take place, will actually enhance the stability of Cuba as it goes through this big political change, and then create an environment in which Cubans can move towards elections and in which leadership will emerge.
QUESTION: Do you guys absolutely rule out Raul as a transitional figure who might facilitate some change? You know, there have been some stories that the guyís like a closet reformer and things like that. What are your -- do you have any high hopes for this guy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: If heís a closet reformer, heís been in the closet a long time and -- you know, hope springs eternal in the human breast, but if -- I think our basic rule in dealing with leaders is that future behavior is -- well, that past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior.
QUESTION: Best predictor, Dr. Phil says.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Right, and we donít see it in the past.
MR. WATNIK: Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for your time. Could you please stay seated for just a moment while we get them out so that we can escort everybody else down.