Interview With Jim Avila of ABC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Havana, Cuba
August 14, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the question I always get when I come back from Cuba to anyone in the United States is, “When should I go?” Should Americans be coming to Cuba now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Look, I mean, as Secretary of State, I’m not going to sit here and tell people when they should come. They have to make up their own minds, obviously. But I will say that there are 12 exceptions which permit people to be able to come. They’re fairly broad, whether it’s people-to-people programs or cultural or family or other kinds of things. And I would urge people, under those appropriate banners, to discover Cuba and discover the Cuban people and learn something about it. Sure, I think it’s to everybody’s benefit.

But we’re still living under an embargo. We’re still living in an era of transition and people have to make up their own minds. But it’s no question that the Administration’s decision to do this is based on our notion that Americans getting to know Cubans and Cubans getting to know Americans and really beginning to travel more and be engaged is the way that, in fact, a transformation is likely to be effective. And so whether people want to be part of that or not is up to them, but we certainly think it’s a fascinating time here and a fascinating time for people to be engaged.

QUESTION: And that’s why I ask you as Secretary of State whether they should come now is, is that helping American foreign policy as the Obama Administration sees it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. We do believe that if people make the decision that it is helpful to do so. We’re not setting out on some massive crusade to encourage everybody to do it, but yes, travel will help, travel is part of that exchange, and I think a lot of people will choose to try to, under the appropriate banner, to explore the relationship with this country and perhaps to try and even change it.

QUESTION: Critics of the Obama Administration policy, your policy, continually say that the Cubans are getting a lot out of this and the Americans are not getting anything. What is America getting? This is a small country, not that important in the big picture of things to the United States, not a threat to us, so what do we get?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, actually, it is important in lots of ways. The relationship between the United States and Cuba is a hangover from the Cold War and it is a sore spot in our relationship with other countries in the hemisphere. We constantly in our diplomacy are hearing from leaders of other countries, “Why don’t you try to reach out to Cuba? Why don’t you and Cuba change the relationship?” And in fact, we believe that from our point of view, by our engaging diplomatically, by our willingness to open an embassy and begin to change the course that we were on, we have a greater chance of actually getting other countries to join us in encouraging Cuba itself to be living up to the standards of the inter-America human rights code and the relationships that the OAS and others encourage. There’s a transparency and accountability which comes with that, and we think that is to everybody’s advantage, frankly.

We also believe that we can do more for the Cuban people with this relationship, and that by being here, being able to engage diplomatically and being able to represent our own values and our own point of view, we have an ability directly, diplomatically, to engage with the people of Cuba, as I did today to some degree. And that helps sort of break down the barriers and the mythology and, in some cases, the stereotypes and the propaganda. And it gives us an opportunity to speak for ourselves, and I think that’s valuable.

QUESTION: Tell me a little bit if you would about what it is – what you gained today by walking around Old Havana and what you – and this people-to-people exchange that you, as the Secretary of State, made yourself today.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s hard – I mean, I don’t want to overrate it, but I think that when the secretary of state of the United States or the president or somebody is able to engage in people-to-people diplomacy in a country, any country, it’s a way of having a chance for people to see who you are to kind of get a textural feel for the relationship, if nothing more. I think that people appreciated it. A lot of people yelled at me, “Thanks for coming, glad you’re here, congratulations, time for us to” – and a couple of people said we still have hopes for more freedom, participation, and so forth.

So I think it’s a – you get a little bit of a feel for the people, who, by the way, are extremely friendly and very, very happy about this historic moment of opening up diplomatic relations.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you about a remnant, sort of – the old Cold War policy that still exists in the United States, and that, of course, is Radio and Television Marti. What do you think, in this changed era, should – how should they be changing themselves? There are still anti-Castro messages on Radio and TV Marti. They still call the cardinal here, who was very helpful in freeing Alan Gross and in continuing the – starting the new policy – they called him a lackey as recently as last year. What would you like to see Radio and TV Marti do and what is their role now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’d like to see – first of all, I’d like to see Cuba open up more in the context of its overall media opportunities and to have greater freedom of press and greater ability of people to report and journalists to engage and to have expression in that reporting and in that press that doesn’t wind up getting them in trouble. So I think that, hopefully – I mean, the ultimate goal would be that you don’t need a TV Marti and a Radio Marti because it’s happening here. And that’s our goal, ultimately. We hope that Cuba will open up and that that will be available.

In the meantime, I think we – all of us, in our efforts to communicate not just here but in the Middle East, in the counter-ISIL and Daesh efforts, our communication needs to become modern and more sophisticated and more capable of enlisting the social media and the other components of communications. It’s a very different game today, very different deal.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s still valid and currently right now that the Radio Marti --

SECRETARY KERRY: I haven’t seen the most recent messaging. I honestly – perhaps I should review it in the context of this, but I think it’s important that it’s deemed to be honest, fair, relevant, and that it actually can reach people in a way that has an impact.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Appreciate it.