Interview With Maria Elena Salinas of Univision
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. Kerry, for talking to us this morning. It was reported that some of the opposition leaders were not invited – actually, let me start over again. It was reported that the opposition leaders were not invited to the opening of the embassy. Some people think that this might send a signal that you care more about the Cuban Government than the people of Cuba, whom you are trying to help with this new engagement. Why were they not invited?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not at all that reason that you just suggested. I will meet with them, and they are invited to the mission at a later time in the day, and we will have a broad cross-section of civil society in Cuba. But the actual flag-raising ceremony is, first of all, in a fairly confined space; and number two, it’s really principally a government-to-government event. But later in the day I will have time and I will meet with a cross-section of Cubans, and I’ll be walking around in the city at some point, and I hope to just meet people. So we’re happy to have a chance to exchange thoughts with folks in Cuba.
QUESTION: It will definitely be a historic week, going for the first times since World War II as Secretary of State. But there’s criticism on both sides and demands on both sides of this issue.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure.
QUESTION: The Cuban Government, one of the demands that they have to move forward in these relations and having normalization of relations is the lifting of the embargo. Is that a possibility in the near future, given the opposition that you have in Congress?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think, Maria – I think, first of all, we are very aware of and sensitive to the pain that many Cuban Americans feel about the history of what has happened with Cuba. We understand that. I have a lot of friends and many, many trips to Miami through the years and other parts of the country and met Cuban Americans who conveyed to me their passion about the country and what happened, and their opposition to the government. And we’re aware of that.
But for 54 years it hasn’t changed. Nothing has happened to move this forward. And we believe very deeply that we are better able, number one, to help the people of Cuba and to be able to represent our values, the values of – universal values of human rights, democracy, et cetera, by being there, by being diplomatically engaged. And number two, it is better for us to be able to represent ourselves in that way and work with the Government of Cuba to be able to help deal with any number of issues that governments need to work on, particularly in this hemisphere.
So we think this will actually help. Now, whether and when the embargo can be lifted, I don’t know the answer to that. We are for the lifting of the embargo. We are for the normalization, the full normalization. But needless to say, we need to take steps gently, appropriately here, and the first step is to begin this diplomatic engagement and then to work on issues like telecommunications, and coast guard/maritime safety, law enforcement, education and health. There are things we can do to work together to build trust and to build a bridge to the future.
QUESTION: This past Sunday there were about 90 pro-democracy activists that were arrested in Cuba. Some of them were wearing masks with a picture of President Obama. Some of the critics say that that proves that your policy of engagement is actually encouraging more repression in Cuba. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t – first of all, it isn’t going to change overnight. This not going to – we haven’t even been there to raise our flag yet. I think that as we begin the process compared to the 54 years of what has been going on, which is no progress, we will begin to see a transformation take place. More people will travel. There will be more exchange. More families will be reconnected. And hopefully, the Government of Cuba will itself make decisions that will begin to change things.
And so I don’t think you can measure a month and a half since we concluded the agreement to actually open the embassy to 54 years. That just doesn’t work. Now, our spokesperson for the State Department spoke out publicly from the podium in the State Department criticizing those people, that move on Sunday, and we will continue to speak out. Our preference is obviously for democracy, for a full embrace of the freedom of human people to choose their future. And that’s what we’re – that’s what we stand for.
QUESTION: Now, talking about Iran, you have been very active in promoting the virtues, let’s say, of the Iran nuclear deal. You’re not only getting opposition from Republicans. You’re also getting opposition from some Democrats, mainly Senator Schumer. What does this mean? What does that opposition mean to your efforts to have it pass Congress?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, inevitably in a democracy people are free to make their choices, and Chuck Schumer is a friend of mine and somebody I’ve served with and somebody I have great respect for, and he has made his decision and I respect his decision. We obviously disagree with the judgment he’s made, but I’m happy to say that so far he is the only senator who has come out in opposition on the Democratic side, and many have come out in favor of it.
So we’ll have to see where it goes. We’re not taking any vote for granted. We’re not taking – we hope to reach some Republicans. We would love it if – it’d be very unusual that an issue of this importance to our nation not to be able to find people who would look at it not through a political lens but through the merits of what it will achieve.
And I think just yesterday a very large group of former admirals and generals came out in favor of the agreement. Twenty-nine scientists from universities, who are nuclear scientists all around the country, came out in favor of this agreement. I think if you step back and really examine it, our hope is we will persuade people this makes the world safer, it will make Israel safer, it will make the region, the Gulf states safer. It is better for Iran not to have a nuclear weapon, which we will prevent with this agreement, rather than to have an Iran that is mischievous in the region that has a nuclear weapon. So we are absolutely convinced we will know what they are doing and we will be able to enforce this agreement.
QUESTION: Mexican drug lord “Chapo” Guzman was captured in early 2014. Why did the U.S. wait almost a year and a half to officially request his extradition?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you’d have to ask the Justice Department what their move was or wasn’t with respect to that. But we have filed that request on the presumption that he will be recaptured, and we want the court to be aware that that request is in place now ahead of time. Obviously, it’s important that a drug lord and his mischievous and sometimes evil enterprise that costs lives and does as much damage as it does and has done be apprehended. And we are working with the Mexican Government and with their authorities in order to try to make sure of that.
QUESTION: What are you doing? What is the U.S. doing to help recapture “El Chapo”?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, we’re doing – our law enforcement authorities are directly engaged with Mexican authorities in helping to gather intelligence principally. I mean, you’ve got to find and locate him first, and then obviously to work on the process of that search. But the Mexican Government is in the lead, not us, but we are there to be as helpful as humanly possible because we obviously have a huge interest in this.
QUESTION: Colombia guerrilla leader Simon Trinidad, Simon Trinidad, is in custody here in the U.S. If the Colombian Government were to formally request for this leader to be let out so that he could participate in negotiations with the government, would the U.S. grant him?
SECRETARY KERRY: You are – this is an entirely legal issue, and you’d really have to direct that to the Justice Department and the Attorney General. I don’t know what the exigencies of the case are. I haven’t looked at it. I haven’t examined it. And it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it in any way ahead of the Justice Department.
QUESTION: When it comes to Venezuela, Human Rights Watch has concluded that the Venezuelan Government is misusing the criminal justice system to punish people for criticizing its policies. As you engage in quiet diplomacy with Venezuela, what are you going to request when it comes to human rights?
SECRETARY KERRY: Respect. Full respect for human rights of all citizens in Venezuela. And that is why the President through executive order put sanctions on individuals who have not respected human rights. So there are a group of people who have been sanctioned specifically as individuals – not the government itself – in an effort to try to make it clear to the government that they still have an opportunity to be able to live by the highest standards, to live up to the inter-American human rights code, to live up to universal values and expectations of behavior.
Now, we want a normal relationship with Venezuela. We’re looking for an opportunity not for them to beat up on the United States as an excuse when it’s necessary politically for them to do so, but to really engage with us. And in this last year, President Maduro has had a number of meetings, two meetings, with our counselor in the State Department, Ambassador Shannon. We’ve been pleased with the exchange of that dialogue. I think it takes a little time to build some credibility and trust in the process.
Our hope is that we could move away from the record of the last years in terms of the relationship with Venezuela and find a way to help the Venezuelan people. That’s our interest. We want the people of Venezuela to be able to achieve the things that they want in their dreams, to have their kids go to school, to have decent health care, to have education, to have jobs, to open up to the world. And that’s really what our policy is all about.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.