Transcript of Pelosi, Congressional Delegation to Cuba Press Conference Today
Havana – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Members of the Congressional delegation trip to Cuba held a press conference today. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everyone. Buenas tardes. Is it tardes yet or is it still dias?
I am very honored to be here with the distinguished delegation of Members of the House of Representatives: the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel of New York; the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee for Health, Education and Labor, and Member of the Democratic leadership, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut; the Ranking Member – that means if we were in the majority he would be the Chairman, he was the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota; Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California, I would say Silicon Valley, California because she is the Ranking Democrat on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee; Congresswoman from New York, was Chairwoman of the Small Business Committee – is [now] the Ranking Member, and is also a senior Member of the Financial Services Committee, so important – all of them longtime friends of Cuba – Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez of New York; Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the Chair of our Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and a Member of the Rules Committee and Agriculture Committee – he has played a very important role in terms of the Hemingway House and so we are all very proud of that connection between the United States and Cuba; a senior Member of the Appropriations Committee, a Member of the House Democratic Leadership Mr. Steve Israel from the great state of New York; and our newest Member in this delegation but strong, long-time supporter of improved U.S.-Cuba relations, Congressman David Cicilline, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
We are very proud of this delegation because it has great depth – they will speak and answer the questions about the years that they have put on, for example, Congresswoman Velázquez for over 20 years has had legislation to eliminate the embargo – for example.
But we arrived here two days ago – February 17th, exactly two months from the day that made a very big difference in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. We’re all very proud of our President and the courage and, to use his word, audacity he had to move forward to change policy.
We’re welcomed by our very distinguished – I call him ambassador – our head of the U.S. Interests Section, again, Ambassador DeLaurentis and his wife Jennifer who extended hospitality to us, but with their team, the country team briefing that they gave us – and we could pay our respects to them for their service as well as be briefed in preparation for this trip. Our first official meeting with the Cuban government was with the Members of the National Assembly and with the Vice President Ana Machado. We had a long and productive meeting with her and nearly 20 Members of the Assembly.
Next, we were with the Dean of the Latin American School of Medicine, Dr. Ponce de Leon – aptly named. We were all very eager to meet him. Then we spent a good deal of time with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and the Director of U.S. Affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry Josefina Vidal.
The next meeting was with the Deputy Minister of Trade and Investment Ileana Núñez. This morning we had the privilege of meeting with Cardinal Ortega for a very inspiring meeting – that as to how he sees things here, followed by meeting with members of the civil society; and, this afternoon we will meet First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel – that is our plan that we have right now.
It has been a very productive three days of meetings here. We, as I say, came with great pride and courage and audacity of our own President and eager to see what the reaction was in Cuba to the actions of President Raúl Castro. And we were very positively impressed by what we heard here about the future prospects of our relationship, because that is really what this visit is about: it’s about how we go forward. And we really would rather hear what your questions are about our visit and our Members – one of the advantages of being Leader is that you recognize other people to answer the questions so that you can hear views of all of the Members of our delegation. That was supposed to be humorous.
In other words, if questions are hard…that passes for humor in certain circles of the United States.
In any event, it was a meeting that we’ll report back to our colleagues in a bipartisan way with great enthusiasm about what we saw here, what we agreed with, what we agreed to disagree about, and where we need more work together. But all in all, really a giant step forward.
So I’m very proud of our delegation, of the work that we accomplished here, and would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
Q: Representative Pelosi or anybody else who would like to comment: after your meeting with Cuban officials and others here, do you see the process towards reopening embassies moving along fairly quickly? And what about the process to what would pass for nearly normal relations? How long do you think that might take, especially with the Republicans running the Congress?
Leader Pelosi. Congresswoman Velázquez, as I said, had the longest history, over 20 years with her legislation, and I thought she might want to give us her – since you asked about timing, I’ll yield to her on that.
Congresswoman Velázquez. Well, personally, December 17th marked a historic moment for the Cuban community, the Cuban people, and Americans. And we need to do put all of our efforts and energy into prolonging a path forward to bring the two countries together. We have a lot to share and a lot that we can benefit from. And I hope that this is seen as we see it: as a bipartisan effort that should be embraced by the two countries.
Leader Pelosi. I would also like to yield to Eliot Engel of New York, who is the Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, for his view on that.
Congressman Engel. I think what President Obama did on December 17th was a giant step forward. My view is now the ball is in the court of the Cuban government. We want to see civil society prosper. We are going to the Summit of the Americas; I hope there will be a large segment of free Cubans civil society there. We’re very concerned about human rights and dissident rights; we think those are important things to raise and bring up. But I think it’s good the country is moving together. I think the Cuban people that we’ve met here had an outpouring of support and love the United States. And we think that for policies that are going to change though, it’s going to be give and take on both sides, and I’d like to see some more changes on the Cuban side.
Leader Pelosi. If I may, I do think – I’m a vote counter; that’s what I do. And I do believe that there is strong bipartisan support in the Congress of the United States to lift the embargo. And that, I think, will open the door to much more progress on this issue. I also think that it would be important for us to move as quickly as possible – when I say quickly as possible, I don’t know how long that will take – but to move in a positive way to remove Cuba from the list of concerned states. So there is great enthusiasm – I’m not saying there’s unanimity – but I’m saying there’s great enthusiasm in a very strong, bipartisan way as you will see from other visitors of Members of Congress.
Q: What did the Foreign Minister and the other Cuban officials you met tell you about the process going forward, what they expect, what they want to see from the next round next week?
Leader Pelosi. I’m going to do this one by seniority and call on Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to respond.
Congresswoman DeLauro. First, let me just reiterate what the Leader spoke about. What struck all of us was how important December 17th was, and that was conveyed throughout all of our meetings. And the issue is also how important it is for President Obama to succeed and for President Castro to succeed. And we did, in fact, talk about, with the Foreign Minister and Josefina Vidal, that they are trying to move forward on issues. There are certainly issues that have already been referenced with regard to Cuba on the state terrorism list; the issue of diplomatic reciprocity is an issue of concern, the banking issues are a concern. And those that we know about – and they are very positive about moving forward in those efforts as are we positive of trying to move forward.
So that notion of success in the direction that President Obama has set out and President Castro, and that this is a moment, everyone recognizes that this is a moment to move not backward to the past, but forward to the future so that in fact we can foster the kind of change that will be critical for both the United States and for Cuba.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you. Mr. Israel. Congressman Steve Israel of New York and a Member of the House Democratic Leadership
Congressman Israel. Thank you. Here’s what I think is going to be necessary in order for this process to succeed, and that is that both countries will need to be focused more on the future and less on the past. December 17th was in fact a historic moment for both countries, but true history is made when things change. And I believe that the leadership of both countries and particularly the United States Congress will be judged in the future by which of us stood up and embraced the future and focused on how to change so that we can improve the lives of Cubans and economic opportunity in the United States and which of us just focused on the past. History is a wonderful thing but true history is made when history is changed. And this is exactly what we want to do.
Q: As you raised the human rights issue with Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Josefina Vidal, how did they respond to that?
Leader Pelosi. That question I’m going to yield to our distinguished chair of our Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a long-time advocate for improved relations between the United States and Cuba, Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
Congressman McGovern. Well, thank you very much. We raised the issue of human rights on a number of occasions. We obviously all care deeply about the human rights issue, but I think it is our view that the best way to promote human rights is to accelerate this new process, to establish a formal embassy in Havana and to establish a formal Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. and have our embassy officials talk directly with the Cuban government and same thing in Washington; Cuban officials talking directly to our government. Rather than doing press conferences and pointing fingers, and making accusations, we ought to have a more mature relationship where we actually talk about some of these issues. We’re not going to agree on everything but I think that we can probably accomplish a lot more if we have a relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation from where each side is coming from.
So we’re going to continue to talk about our concerns about human rights, but I think it is my belief, certainly, that the best way to advance a cause of human rights is to end a policy which has been a miserable failure for over 50 years and to do everything that we can to make this next round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Cuban government succeed. We want to resolve this embassy issue, and we ought to get Cuba off the terrorist list, they don’t belong there to begin with – we remove that excuse and begin to establish normal diplomatic relationships. That’s how you begin a process that is constructive rather than one that is just accusatory and finger-pointing.
Leader Pelosi. I’d like Mr. Cicilline to speak to that issue, too, because he’s worked very hard on the human rights issue.
Congressman Cicilline. Thank you, Madam Leader. I, too, believe that what we learned from our visit is that this is an incredibly important opportunity both for the United States and the people of Cuba. And I, for one, recognize that deepening our relationships and repairing this broken relationship and building a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and Cuba presents a tremendous opportunity for the people of the United States and the people of Cuba. The goal is to deepen the relationship and enrich each other’s lives by this new chapter. And part of that will, of course, be a discussion about many issues, one of them will be human rights.
And I think Congressman McGovern is exactly right: the best way we can advance human rights is to engage in a productive way with the country of Cuba and the government here. And as part of the President’s announcement, it was an agreement that there will be direct engagement on the issue of human rights, a dialogue. And I think building a relationship by having embassies open as quickly as possible, and removing Cuba from the terrorist list, solving the banking problem – will be important steps to rebuilding trust between our two countries, so that we can have a meaningful discussion about issues of common interest, particularly the issue of human rights.
Q: How fast do you think the Congress could establish a serious debate concerning the Cuban blockade – to lift the Cuban blockade, how fast?
Leader Pelosi. Well, in the translation we call it the embargo. “Blockade” is a little bit bigger of an obstruction than even an embargo. But I thank you, Maria, for your question. And it’s really almost where we started the conversation – and that is that I do believe there is strong bipartisan support to lift the embargo in the Congress. However, it’s not universal, and it certainly does not appear to be shared by those in power, who have the ability to bring a bill to the floor.
But, I do think that, with public sentiment in support of this – the more the public is aware of what the possibilities are, I think the sooner it will pass. We would like to see the embargo lifted – it’s been a long time, as this has been said, an unsuccessful technique. And we also want to improve all of our relationships, whether they be political, cultural — and certainly economic
One is telecommunications. Congresswoman Eshoo is the ranking Democrat on that telecommunications and Internet committee, and I’d like her to address that issue in relationship to lifting that embargo.
Congresswoman Eshoo. Thank you, Madam Leader. I think the operative word is “future.” And so, interwoven in all of our discussions with representatives of the Cuban Government, we talked about the future, and what will help shape a brighter future for the Cuban people, really speak to the hopes and aspirations of especially young people, when it comes to communication, to the Internet, to expanding broadband in Cuba – these are the essential tools for a 21st century society. And they are transformative.
When we visited the Latin School of Medicine, and met with the students there, I asked about tele-medicine. And the student replied: “There just isn’t any. It doesn’t exist.” But it would, if there were broadband. And so, this touches people, in their lives, in their day-to-day lives, in so many ways. And so, it is – I think – nothing short of remarkable, that on the heels of December 17th and what President Obama announced, that the follow-up in the telecommunications and broadband sector is very exciting in terms of an opportunity for the Cuban people. And we want to work with them in order to advance it, so that really the values of the Cuban people, in education, in medicine, in commerce, in scholarship – that all of that can be advanced, just as it is in our society and other countries around the world.
Leader Pelosi. Mr. Cicilline mentioned the financial community, and we can go there. But another very prominent industry is the agricultural industry, both in your country and in ours. And I wanted to call on Congressman Collin Peterson, who as I said, was the Chairman, now the Ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, and has studied the possibilities of agriculture, trade, commerce – whatever – between the United States and Cuba, Mr. Peterson.
Congressman Peterson. Thank you, Madam Leader. And, you know, I have supported lifting the embargo since I was elected 25 years ago. And we’ve made some progress, and we’ve gone backwards, and it’s hurt both of our countries. It’s hurt my farmers, and it’s hurt your people, because your food costs more. And it’s really a policy that makes no sense. So we have been – on this trip I’ve been meeting with some of your people at the Ministry of Agriculture, some of your folks that are involved in the agriculture business, and interested in it – and I think we need to move forward in getting past this embargo some way or another.
We’d like to sell food to you folks. But we have put things in place in the United States that make it difficult, which is dumb, but we did it. There are problems on both sides. So we can help you by selling you food – good food – at a little bit cheaper price. But I think we can also help, if we can get past this embargo, we can help your agriculture to develop. And I think one of the ways we can really make a difference in this country, in the rural areas, is by helping to reestablish agriculture, and make it profitable and economically sensible. And I think the United States can do that. So, we have made some connections. We’re going to try to figure out how we can work in the process to be positive in helping you folks.
You’re importing 75% of your food, and you don’t need to be doing that. You could be producing a lot of that food in Cuba. And I think the United States could help. So we’ve had a very positive trip, and we look forward to working with both sides to make things work better in the future.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you, Mr. Peterson. There’s been bipartisan – I just want to emphasize that, and I yield to Congresswoman DeLauro to emphasize that point in terms of the embargo.
Congresswoman DeLauro. I think it’s important to note – and I don’t know how many of you do know this – that historically, in the House of Representatives, there has been bipartisan support for normalizing relations with Cuba. Congressman McGovern and myself, I know that Congressman Peterson has participated in the Cuba Working Group. And all of the issues that have been mentioned have been on the table. Whether it was agriculture – I had the opportunity of taking a bipartisan delegation seven years ago to Cuba on the issue of agriculture. And we watched the rice being offloaded on the docks from Vietnam and Malaysia. Why can’t that rice come from the United States?
And so the point is, that there is – in response to your question, because you asked about a Republican Congress, the Leader talked about that we can’t get that piece of legislation, because they have that determination. But the fact of the matter is that there is, on both sides of the aisle, very strong support for addressing these issues, and wanting to move – as has been pointed out – for the future, and how we can continue to normalize these relationships.
Congressman McGovern. I just want to emphasize what Congresswoman DeLauro said – there is bipartisan support. The issue is whether the current leadership in the House and Senate will schedule a bill for debate, and a vote. And that right now seems to be a problem. And so, we’re going to reestablish the Cuba Working Group, in a bipartisan way. And we’re going to, in a bipartisan way, try to press the Republican leadership to practice a little democracy in the House of Representatives, and allow us to have a debate, and a vote on this issue. This is an important issue. And Members of both parties ought to be able to debate it, to say what they feel about it, and vote yes or no on it. And I think, if we have that opportunity, we can prevail.
Leader Pelosi. So much of what we’re talking about is about time. For us, it is inevitable that this will happen. For some, it might be inconceivable. So we just want to shorten the distance, the time, between the inevitable and the inconceivable. And hopefully, that will pick up steam now. One more?
Q: During these days, there has been a summit – a movement – in Havana about the technologies, the Internet, and the informatization of the Cuban society. What do you think – during your visit, how have you observed the desire of the Cuban government to cooperate with the United States on this specific issue.
Congresswoman Eshoo. Well I think that, especially for the younger population in Cuba – young Cubans – that they are hungry for it. They understand the power, and the empowerment that comes with the tools that come about as a result of broadband. Cuba has about a five percent penetration of broadband, which is one of the lowest in the world. So that’s what needs to be opened up. I’m familiar with what was taking place as we were having all of our meetings. And I had the pleasure of being seated at lunch next to Harold Cárdenas Lima, who is a blogger…in Cuba. So we had a wonderful discussion, and 2.5 million subscribers from colleges and universities across Cuba. That is a very powerful, eloquent statement about not only the use of these tools, but how much more needs to be done.
So I think that this is an area that will be highly beneficial to Cuban society, and will help advance, as I said earlier, the values that you all hold, as we do. And so, we want to help move that along. And I’d love to come back and see 95% penetration.
Leader Pelosi. One thread that runs through all of this, of course, is the well-being of the Cuban people. And we’ve talked about telecommunications, and we’ve talked about agriculture. But one of the things that has been striking to us is to see the success of small businesses while we were here, and all of which – whether it’s agriculture, small businesses, health, as Congresswoman Eshoo said – all of it benefits from improved technology, communication, and that.
And I thought that as a close to this question – Congresswoman Velázquez, who was the Chair[woman] of the Small Business Committee in the Congress, actually [they] take great pride in her from this region, because she was born in, and mostly raised in Puerto Rico, came to the United States, ran for Congress, became one of the first women in the history of the United States to chair a full Committee of the Congress of the United States. She also is very senior on the Financial Services Committee, where the banking aspect and credit is very important. So she understands this in addition to her leadership on ending the embargo. Congresswoman?
Congresswoman Velázquez. Well today, we met with some small businesses, and let me just say that, in the United States, 28 million small businesses represent the backbone of the American economy. They are what fuel the American economy. And, there are some elements in our economy that help small businesses grow and expand their businesses – by providing technical assistance, by incentivizing financial institutions to lend to small businesses – the type of models that work. And we would like to be able to share our experience in promoting economic development here in Cuba, so that the Cuban families are empowered economically – and produce and create the jobs that will make this economy stronger for every Cuban family.
So, we look forward seeing that financial institutions from the United States might play a role in promoting access to capital, or providing the type of technical assistance that will help businesses in this Cuban society to flourish. And we need those jobs – I believe that. We heard businesses that started as paladares with two, three employees – today they’re employing 15 employees and 20 employees. I think that that will bring the kind of dynamism that will help economic growth that is so important for the Cuban families.
Leader Pelosi. Thank you all very much. Again I want to commend our Ambassador DeLaurentis – to thank him and his wife Jennifer, and his team, for facilitating what was, for us, a very productive visit to Cuba.
I’ll just end on how our meeting with Cardinal Ortega went this morning, when he talked about reconciliation, as he did at Mass yesterday, on Ash Wednesday. He talked about reconciliation being so central to making progress and going forward, and also the power of prayer. So while we all work very, very hard, each in our own way, to persuade our colleagues, to speak to the American people about these issues, we think for the benefit of the people of Cuba, it is important for us all to be effective and to pray that it happens much sooner rather than later. Thank you all very much.