Clinton, senator spar over Cuba policy
Posted: February 25th, 2010 06:46 AM ET
From CNN Senior State Producer Charley Keyes
Washington (CNN) - In a tense moment during hearings on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sparred with Sen. Robert Menendez over whether the United States had halted pro-democracy programs in Cuba.
U.S.-Cuban relations have become tenser in the aftermath of the December imprisonment of a U.S. citizen and government contractor, Alan Gross.
"For some reason, it seems to me, when it comes to Cuba, the recent actions by the regime to arrest an American citizen have totally frozen our actions," Menendez, D-New Jersey, said at a Senate Foreign Relations budget hearing with Clinton.
"Are we going to have a permanent freeze on having entities that are trying to create peaceful change for civil society inside of Cuba? Is that the policy of the State Department?"
Clinton denied a freeze was in force, but said there is "an intense review" under way.
"We are very supportive of the work that we believe should be done to support those people of conscience inside Cuba. We are trying to figure out the best ways to effective in doing that," Clinton said.
"We're currently reviewing the risks in the wake of the baseless arrest of Mr. Gross in Cuba so that people who are traveling in furtherance of the mission, advocating for freedom, providing services, providing supplies and material to Cubans will take the necessary precautions when traveling."
Clinton's comments came a day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban pro-democracy activist and prisoner who died after a hunger strike.
"We are deeply distressed by his death during a hunger strike on behalf if his rights and to send a signal of the political prisoner situation and oppression in Cuba where we think there are in excess of 200 other prisoners of conscience," Clinton said.
Menendez repeated his concern that the U.S. was turning away from pro-democracy activist in Cuba.
"If a regime, whether that be in China , whether than be in any other country in the world, can ultimately deter the United States from its engagement of human rights activists and political dissidents, then that pillar of our diplomacy crumbles," Menendez said.
"But that is not what we are doing," interrupted Clinton.
"Well, I would like to see what we are doing," Menendez said. "Because right now we are not doing very much."