United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CNN transcript september 2, 2009 am NewsMorning

Now to a developing story this morning and more signs of a changing relationship with Cuba. It's a step as small as a postage stamp, but the possibility of direct mail service between the U.S. and Cuba could be another sign of a more open relationship after a half a century of bad blood.
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson thinks the time may be ripe from that. He is just back from Cuba and joins us this morning from Santa Fe.
Governor, good to have you back. I wanted to open by asking you do you think it's time to end the embargo against Cuba?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: Yes, I do. It's not helping U.S. business. It's not in our interests. It hurts us in Latin America.
But we need to get something in return for that, John. And this is called diplomacy. What can we get in return? Release of political prisoners, democratization in Cuba.
But my point, John, is that before we deal with those bigger issues, including what happens with Guantanamo Bay's political prisoners, other big, divisive issues, that we deal with what I call the soft power issues, people-to-people issues, allowing travel by Americans to Cuba, academics, businessmen.
And then the Cubans on their part allowing Cubans coming more freely to the United States, finding ways to lower the fees and the red tape permitting that.
But one thing I think is essential, John, is a new dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuban-Americans. Cuban-Americans have driven this debate over the years.
A dialogue between Cuban-American Democrats and Republicans, and Cuban -- not substituting for government, the government talks, but I think that would move a very good atmosphere that exists today from President Obama's travel restriction lifting and migratory talks that are going on now.
So I think the atmosphere is good. These postal talks, direct post service -- in the past you send letters through third countries -- these are good steps, and I think the time is now.
ROBERTS: And we should point out, too, governor, that upon your return you have offered to act as an intermediary between the Cuban government and Cubans who oppose lifting the embargo to try to get the sides together.
But for many Cuban-Americans, governor, and you know this well, just even saying the words, as you said at the beginning of this, it's time to lift the embargo, are going to provoke outrage.
So what do you say to people about why it's time to lift the embargo, because the Castro brothers are still in control, they haven't loosened up? What do you say to the people who say it's outrageous to think about this? RICHARDSON: There is a change in the Cuban-American position, gradual change. Yes, I think a sizable majority still doesn't want to end the embargo, but there are many Cuban-Americans in Florida, in New Jersey, around the country that think the embargo hasn't worked.
So, the time is to have tough diplomacy to see how there can be a relationship that possibly ends the embargo, but also brings some kind of democratization to the island.
Look, it's not going to be easy, but the fact is, John, you look at every presidential race, the Senate races, Cuban-Americans have driven the policy on Cuba. So my point is, include them in any possible change.
And my point here is that it's going to take time to deal with the big issues, but right now we can deal with eliminating some of the travel bans, allowing scientists and academics to come into the United States.
And then on the Cuban side, you know, I noticed them being a little intransigent. They have to reciprocate. I think President Obama has had a travel restriction lifted. The Cuban-Americans should do some human rights measures at the same time, too.
ROBERTS: Governor, there is a chicken and egg issue here, and in the language of diplomacy it's called sequencing. Do you end the embargo with hopes that that will change things in Cuba, or do you say to the Cuban leadership you have to change, and then we'll lift the embargo? RICHARDSON: No. What I'm saying, John, is wait on the embargo issue, because the Congress is going to have to deal with that. So you can't deal with that immediately.
What I'm saying is government to government steps right now -- for instance, implements President Obama's travel restrictions, the lifting of those. Secondly, allowing more visits of academics into Cuba, more extensive Americans traveling to Cuba, finding ways that the Cubans, too, let Cubans come to the United States more easily.
ROBERTS: Let me -- let me ask you this as a final question, if I could. Where do you think we're going to be in our relations with Cuba one year from today?
RICHARDSON: One year from today I think we're going to be looking at tough negotiations on the embargo, on other issues like those political prisoners in Cuba. And then the Cubans are interested in some Cubans that are detained and going through trial in the United States.
So, I see a good positive one-year period where we're dealing with these people-to-people issues that are important. Right now there is still a lot of mistrust between the two countries, and it's going to be tough to get to those tough issues.
But what I'm saying is, if I can fault the Obama administration for one point, is that, you know, we're really tied up with health care, with the economy, so there hasn't been a focus on the Cuban issue as much as there should be.
I think it should, because it helps us in Latin America, it's in our interests. We lose business with the embargo. But you have to get something in return.
And my point is that if we deal with these soft power issues, human rights, person-to-person issues, travel, allowing more scientists to go to Cuba, finding ways that the Cubans, too, have to take some steps, like permitting more Cubans to come into the United States. For instance, allowing diplomats, there is a proposal, an American proposal on the table to allow our diplomats in Havana and in the United States, both sides to travel more freely within our two countries. And then again, I just think you got to get Cuban-Americans involved, and I propose this dialogue with the Cuban government. They haven't said no yet, but they weren't thrilled about it. So, you know, full disclosure.
ROBERTS: I don't think either side is particularly thrilled about the prospect.
Governor, it's always great to talk to you. Thanks so much for getting up early today. We'll see where all of this goes.
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Take care.