Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Asst. Secty. Valenzuela on Cuba policy


Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, provided this summary at a luncheon of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami on May 20th.


“This brings me once again to Cuba, where we seek to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. When President Obama addressed this gathering in May 2008, he emphasized the desire to move Cuba further down the road toward freedom and made clear his commitment to supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. The President also laid out his openness to direct engagement when, and I quote, ‘we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.’

“During the first 16 months of the Obama administration, we have begun to make progress on the vision that the President has outlined. First, we have taken measures to increase contact between separated families and to promote the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. We believe that the reunification of the divided Cuban family is a positive step toward building a better future for Cuba. In addition, we have engaged Cuban authorities on key bilateral matters like migration and direct mail service and will continue to do so to advance U.S. national interests. In the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, the United States worked with Cuba to expedite the arrival of critical supplies to victims and survivors of the worst natural disaster in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere.

“We have also increased artistic and cultural exchanges between our countries, consistent with our long-standing support for freedom of expression. The ‘Peace Without Borders’ concert in Havana and performances in the United States by noted Cuban artists such as Carlos Varela demonstrate in concrete terms our desire to promote greater communication between the people of the United States and Cuba. In 2009, there was an 80 percent increase in travel licenses issued to U.S. persons under the public performances, athletic, and other competitions and exhibitions category; a 25 percent increase in religious licenses; and a 16 percent increase in licenses issued for academic travel to Cuba. Additionally, non-immigrant visa issuances for Cuban citizens have more than doubled in the last year, including visas for more Cubans to travel to the United States for cultural academic and professional exchange. This engagement has not generated overnight change, but it has advanced U.S. interests and in conjunction with our efforts to reach out to the Cuban people helped lay the foundation for a more robust civil society and increased the chances that Cuba will make a successful transition to democracy.

“We remain deeply concerned by the poor human rights situation in Cuba, which contributed to the recent death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata as a result of a hunger strike. We are also focused on securing the release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was jailed in Cuba in December—a matter of great importance to the United States. And the unhelpful rhetoric of the Cuban government will remain a constant feature of the relationship almost irrespective of what policies we pursue.

“Again, we are committed to continuously evaluating and refining our policies in ways that will empower the Cuban people and advance our national interests. This does not, however, mean that we will shy away from condemning the Cuban government’s repressive ways—far from it. Just last March, President Obama stated, ‘Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist.’ That response is discouraging, but will not deter us from pursing the policy approach the President has laid out and which we have been working hard to advance since January 20, 2009.”

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