Interview With Andres Oppenheimer of CNN Espanol

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
August 12, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you for attending.


QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, your Republican critics and many Democrats who care deeply about human rights say that the Obama Administration has sort of given away everything in exchange for nothing in Cuba. What do you say to that criticism?

SECRETARY KERRY: Here’s what I say: Tell me what has happened to change for the good over 54 years. In just a month and a half, in the last month since the President announced this, we’ve seen travel go up 35 percent. We’ve seen already a feeling, an energy being released, because people are excited about the prospects of the United States re-engaging directly with the Cuban Government. Every country in the American hemisphere – north and south – has encouraged the United States to do this.

Now, the truth is that this will not be the complete and total change everybody wants overnight. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But I am convinced that by being there, President Obama’s convinced that by being there, we will be able to do more to help the Cuban people. Their concerns, their issues, their hopes, their dreams will be better represented more directly to our government with accountability in that process.

And number two, we will be able to do a better job of representing our interests in Cuba as a government, and working on law enforcement, on maritime security, on health, education, on telecommunications. There’s enormous amount of benefit that comes with this. And what you have to compare is the energy and excitement people have felt about the potential of this change versus what has happened over 54 years.

QUESTION: What concrete steps would you want, would you hope, would you expect Cuba to take now regarding human rights, of course, not in --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we will – I hope – and the human rights, obviously, is at the top of our agenda in terms of the first things that we will be focused on in our direct engagement with the Cuban Government. And I will sit down with my counterpart when I’m there on Friday. We will talk very directly about a sort of roadmap towards real, full normalization. Now, ultimately, that would include the lifting of the embargo, which we support, but it also will include Cuba moving forward on various things that make a difference. And we’ll have to --

QUESTION: Things like what?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously, human rights, the ability of people to engage in a democratic process, to elect people, to have their own choices. The Cuban people are going to have to decide that, not the United States. I mean, this has to come from the Cuban people, and I believe that our ability to support the Cuban people and be there in their interest is enhanced by our presence with an embassy and with diplomats there.

There’s no question in my mind, we will have a better opportunity to stand up and fight for human rights right there, being there, with an ambassador, with an embassy, able to engage with the people of Cuba. And if that doesn’t happen, then other things are options, obviously.

QUESTION: Other things like what?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, just if – this will work. This will work. The U.S. has led this work. It’s an opportunity.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, the Republicans in Congress who are criticizing this say that the fact that you apparently are not going to invite peaceful oppositionists to the embassy ceremony, the flag-raising ceremony, sends the wrong message. Sends the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I – we just disagree with that. We’re going to meet. I will meet more particularly, rather than have people sitting in a chair at a ceremony that is fundamentally government to government with very limited space. I will meet with them and actually have an opportunity to be able to talk to them and exchange views. And they will come to our mission later in the day along with a cross-section of Cuban civil society, and we’ll have an opportunity to be able to meet. So I just don’t agree with that.

This is a government-to-government moment. We’re opening an embassy. It’s not open to everybody in the country. It’s a government-to-government event. And later we’ll have an opportunity where there is a broader perspective to be able to meet with, as I say, a broad cross-section of Cuban civil society, including dissidents.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, you have said that your talks with Cuba, the U.S. talks with Cuba, in those normalization talks you talked about Venezuela. What exactly did you ask Cuba to do regarding Venezuela, and what was Cuba’s response?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we want Cuba – not Cuba, excuse me. We want Venezuela, obviously, to live up to the norms and the standards of the OAS and the inter-American human rights requirements, and free elections that are accountable to the international community. And so we’re very interested in establishing a normal relationship with the Venezuelan Government in an effort to try to help meet the needs of the Venezuelan people.

I mean --

QUESTION: Did you talk about that with the Cubans?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, we’ve talked very specifically about America’s desire to have a relationship with the Venezuelan people that raises the ability of the people of Venezuela to be able to be protected and respected, represented, and actually see their lives improve. And that’s our goal.

QUESTION: And what did the Cubans respond?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Cubans responded and they obviously have a clear relationship, an interest in Venezuela, but that they can understand our desire and want to try to further our relationship there as well as in Cuba, and that they don’t hopefully – they didn’t make any promises, but hopefully, they will represent that what we’re doing with them now is beneficial, and why shouldn’t Venezuela also go the same road.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, Venezuela is going to have elections December 6th, legislative elections. If Venezuela doesn’t allow a credible international observation team – OAS, let’s say; if Venezuela doesn’t release political prisoners like Leopoldo Lopez, will that change the way in which you are dealing with (inaudible)? Would that --

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure, very probably. It’s – it would have a serious impact on our attitude and about whether or not the government is prepared to in fact be accountable and open up and engage the way the rest of the Americas community is desiring them to. So yes, it would have an impact; no question about it. And we hope that won’t be the case. We’re very hopeful the elections will be transparent, accountable, well-run, accessible to every sector of Venezuelan society, and we will measure that very carefully.

QUESTION: One last question – totally other news. Have you totally ruled out running for the Democratic nomination?


QUESTION: You have?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a quick and easy answer.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Last question. Have you named an ambassador to Cuba? Now, I know you haven’t – but have you thought of one?

SECRETARY KERRY: Of course I’ve thought --

QUESTION: Do you have somebody in mind?

SECRETARY KERRY: I do, but this is not the moment to make that announcement. I hope you’ll respect that. At the right time we’ll – when the President is ready, he’ll make that announcement.

QUESTION: Last question, Secretary. USAID and the State Department spend millions of dollars to help organize civil society in Cuba. Will some of the funds be diverted to help entrepreneurship, create an entrepreneurial --

SECRETARY KERRY: It won’t be diverted. We will help – we will help entrepreneurship, and we want to help small business and people. But we will also continue to fund the democracy programs and the things that we have in the past.

QUESTION: There will not be a reduction of funds for --

SECRETARY KERRY: To the best of my knowledge, there’s no reduction that I’m aware of. Unless the budget at the – in the Congress if it is. But we’re not purposely reducing that. We will continue to support those programs.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much. Very kind of you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.