Brown and Black Forum, Des Moines, Iowa 12/01/07
Michelle Norris: (1:24:57). This question is for Senator Clinton. A large percentage of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba and
loosening travel restrictions. What would you do as president with regard to normalizing relations, ending the trade embargo, opening the door to travel and to diplomatic relations with Cuba?
Hillary Clinton: (1:25:22) Well I think we are going to have that opportunity because I believe that when Fidel Castro finally does pass on, there will be a tremendous pent up desire on the part of the Cuban people for freedom and for democracy. Certainly if they were to make steps right now to recognize human rights, to release political prisoners, there could be perhaps some reciprocal action taken by the United States but until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuban government that they have to move towards democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our policy. But I look forward as president to perhaps being there when that opportunity arises.
You know it’s tragic that in the last seven years we’ve lost ground in Latin America. We’ve lost it as more and more countries have moved away
from democracy [toward] authoritarian even dictatorial rule. We see what’s happening in Venezuela with the big power grab going on by Chavez and I hope that when I’m president we can get re-engaged and we pay more attention to Latin America and we start building relationships again. I think that’s important for us and important for the people of those countries.
MN: (1:26:44) Thank you; just a very quick follow-up. You said that the US may have soon an opportunity, but Fidel Castro is very strong. And if he does last into 2008, in January of 2009 and beyond, would you normalize relations with Cuba.
HC: (1:27:01) No. Not unless he made, or whoever was then the head of government in Cuba made, significant changes in the way that they treated their own people and I think that has to be a precondition.
MN: (1:27:16) Thank you very much Senator. Senator Dodd very quickly? Very
Chris Dodd: (1:27:20) I served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic and spent a lot time on Latin American issues and chaired the [sub]committee of the Foreign Relations Committee for the last 26 years dealing with Latin American. I think we are making a huge mistake by not normalizing relations with Cuba. The only one who is benefiting from this in my view, the only one who has benefited is Fidel Castro. This is outrageous in my view. If you want to create change in the country as we did with the eastern block countries, this is the way, is to allow travel to occur. This is the only country in the world where Americans are not allowed to travel there because our country forbids them from going there. That is how you create change in these countries. This embargo has done nothing but keep Fidel Castro in power. I think we ought to abandon
the embargo, open up travel restrictions and he’ll create change immediately in my view of Cuba.
MN: (1:28:08) Very quickly for the sake of fairness another very quick yes no
question. Normalize relations with Cuba just down the line, starting with you.
John Edwards: (1:28:18) Without respect to what’s happening with Castro.
MN: (1:28:22) Irregardless.
JE: (1:28:23) No. Not unless and until something has happened with Castro.
MN: (1:28:28) Representative Kucinich?
Dennis Kucinich: (1:28:29) Yes.
MN: (1:28:30) Senator Biden?
Joe Biden: (1:38:31) We have to reach out to the Cuban people right now because he’s not going to last no matter what you say and the bottom line is we have to have a plan. There is no plan. Chris is right. You’ve got to normalize relations with them eventually and it seems to me that’s going to come very quickly.
MN: (1:28:43) Normalize relations whether or not Fidel Castro is in power?
JB: (1:28:47) Not as long as he in fact has his human rights policy but you’ve got to compete with it.
MN: (1:28:51) Thank you. Senator Obama?
Barack Obama: (1:28:52) No, but there are two things we can do right now to prepare for that. And that is loosen travel restrictions for family members, Cuban Americans who want to visit and open up remittances so that they are able to support family members, many of them who are fighting for their liberty in Cuba right now.
MN: (1:29:10) But for right now?
BO: (1:29:12) I would not normalize relations but those two things, those two shifts in policy would send a signal that we can build on once Castro is out of power.
MN: (1:29:20) Very quickly Governor Richardson?
Bill Richardson: (1:29:22) Michelle as the only brown member in this debate, is there any chance we could have civil rights equity and have the brown guy get a little more time?
MN: (1:29:34) When you put it like that.
BR: (1:29:42) This is what I, Cuba. You always want to get something in return. The embargo has not worked. In return for lifting the embargo, there have to be some democratic reforms, release of political prisoners in Cuba. But we should stop preventing Cuban Americans from going back and forth with family visits. We should in addition to that permit remittances that are not taking place.
But most importantly we should send a signal to Latin America, as we should to Africa that we care about the third world. That we care about problems that relate to the relationship with our southern hemisphere. That we care deeply about the fact that Hugo Chavez has more influence than we do because we are not paying enough attention to the region. That we need creative trade relations that we need renewable energy ties with Latin America. That we also need to make sure that we resolve the immigration issue, which effects not just Mexico but Central American and the Caribbean and the whole hemisphere.
(Slightly edited for clarity and consistency from on line transcript.)