June 5, 2004

John Kerry: Statement of Principles on U.S. Cuba Policy

For Immediate Release

I am committed to seeing the end to the Castro regime, which I have long condemned for its flagrant human rights abuse and political oppression. There is no excuse for the Castro regime to hold down over 11 million talented and hardworking citizens of the Americas, some of our closest neighbors. Let there be no mistake about my view: I will support effective and peaceful strategies that will hasten the end of the Castro regime as soon as possible, and enable the Cuban people to take their rightful place in the democratic community of the Americas. But the policy of this Administration punishes and isolates the Cuban people while leaving Castro and his consorts unharmed, free to blame the United States for their own failures.

I want to work with all Americans, especially the broad and diverse Cuban-American community, others in the Latino community, the United States Congress, our neighbors in this hemisphere, and the international community, to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba, putting the focus on Castro's failures instead of our policy.

President Bush's recent election-year move to significantly restrict cash remittances to Cuban families and virtually eliminate family travel must be seen for what it is -- a cynical and misguided ploy for a few Florida votes. This move will not pressure Castro. But it will pressure Cuban-Americans and their often elderly relatives across the straits. I am not going to pander and promise something no president in the last 45 years has been able to deliver. I want to take steps to help all of us, including Cubans and their families in Cuba, work toward a democratic solution and the ultimate end to the Castro regime in a peaceful and democratic way. President Bush, on the other hand, has asked Cuban-Americans to choose between their government and their families on the island, steps widely denounced not only by Cuban families, but also by leading dissidents on the island. When the President's proposals take effect, the misery of the Cuban people, not of Castro, is sure to rise.

Instead, we should promote the interchanges of ideas that will begin now to lay the foundations for economic prosperity and an independent civil society that I believe are so critical to peace and democracy. I would begin by encouraging principled travel. George Bush wants to end most travel to Cuba. Cuban-American families are the most positive force for change in Cuba today. Why limit their freedom to press for change? Humanitarian trade in food and medicine is another powerful way to strengthen the foundation of freedom and democracy. And we have a bipartisan consensus in the Congress for such steps.

Indeed, I have consistently joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in votes with bipartisan majorities to end the travel ban and to permit the sale of food and medicine, while voting to censure Cuba for human rights violations. Last year, both houses of Congress voted in favor of lifting the travel ban – and only Bush Administration opposition prevented the bipartisan will of Congress from becoming law. These votes signal my belief and that of the Congress that selective engagement, not isolation, is the best way for the American people to send real, not just rhetorical, hope for a better future to the Cuban people.

I have also consistently supported remittances because I believe they can become a powerful tool for all Cuban-Americans and all Americans to help Cubans on the island not just to survive, but also to start small businesses and thereby gain a measure of autonomy from the crushing repression of the Cuban state. We should lift the remittance cap and allow all Americans to send remittances to households and humanitarian institutions. The Bush announcement to curb travel and remittances, will not only hurt Cuban families, but will also prompt the Castro regime again to blame the United States for the Cuban people's suffering.

I also support the free flow of information to Cuba. Enhancing communication through news bureaus, people-to-people contact, effective support for dissidents and civil society, and an accessible, soundly managed, fair and balanced Radio and TV Martí can help reduce the isolation of the Cuban people. But at the end of the day, the best way to communicate American ideals to Cubans is to let Americans and Cubans talk face to face.

Let me be clear – I do not support lifting the embargo or recognizing Castro's dictatorial regime. While reducing the economic isolation of the Cuban people, I want to work with the international community to increase political and diplomatic pressure on the Castro regime to release all political prisoners, support civil society, and begin a process of genuine political reform.

This effort will come as part of a broader initiative to restore American credibility with our allies. President Bush on the other hand is now considering implementing extra territorial aspects of the Helms-Burton law, aimed at punishing foreign countries and companies for investing in Cuba. This will further strain relations with Canada and our European allies when, frankly, we most need them. With American credibility abroad suffering from this White House's smug disregard for world opinion, extra-territorial steps will only make matters worse. Instead, I will work to craft a policy toward Cuba that our allies can join and support.

Over the last forty-five years our government has tried everything from invasion and covert operations to economic sanctions and international pressure to bring about change in Cuba. The American taxpayer has spent billions of dollars on the cause, to no avail. For example, under the Bush administration, far more manpower at the Treasury is dedicated to enforcing the Cuba travel ban than to tracking down terrorist financing. A policy of isolation and deprivation sends the wrong message to the Cuban people and strengthens Castro and the hardliners around him, allowing them to manipulate information about America's intentions.

As President, I will seek to reverse that equation and show Cubans on the island that the United States government and all of its citizens, including Cuban-Americans, can be positive partners for the island's free and democratic future.