Interview With Maria Elena Salinas of Univision

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Hotel Nacional
Havana, Cuba
March 22, 2016

QUESTION: We have to start with news of the day, not very good news – terrorism once again is rocking Europe. What do you know about the terrorist attacks and is the U.S. concerned of similar attacks in the homeland?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re always – all of us – concerned about the potential of these attacks. Everybody knows that it is possible for somebody who’s willing to blow themselves up to do injury anywhere in the world. This is the tragedy of the kind of terror that we’re living with today. It is why we need to fight as fast as possible to destroy Daesh, ISIL. And we are very organized. We’re working constantly now with all of our friends and allies in the region, elsewhere to put pressure on Daesh, and I think that’s why you see this kind of frantic lashing out by the terrorists.

But I just talked to the foreign minister of Belgium a few minutes ago. It’s obviously a devastating scene and very, very difficult. They do not have preliminary indications other than an act of terror. There were shouts in Arabic of “Allahu Akbar” and the – what we’ve learned now accompanies these terrible acts, but it’s too early to pin down one particular group or entity.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. Government taking any additional measures for protection, preventive measures, security measures?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, we are. And I’m not going to talk about all of them, but we obviously have warnings to many embassies, to many of our personnel. We’ve issued constant warnings for travel in certain places. We always urge potential travelers to check with the embassies where they’re going and to register and to be very alert and aware of their surroundings, which is a very important part of modern life.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about Cuba now. When asked about political prisoners during the press conference, Raul Castro said that he would release them overnight. As you know, Elizardo Sanchez, founder of Cuban Human Rights Commission, says there are 87 political prisoners. Do you know if they will be released, and is that something that the U.S. is concerned about?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the U.S. is constantly concerned about and we’ve always raised the issue of human rights, of people’s political rights. We have a number of people who were released just last week and who have left Cuba now, traveled to the United States; we have families that will follow shortly. And we constantly raise the names of particular individuals who it is our judgment have been arrested or detained for political reasons.

We will continue to have this kind of back and forth, this tug of war, over individuals. But in our – it is our hope that President Castro and the Cuban Government will increasingly, hopefully, allow more space politically for people to be able to express their views and to be able to take part in active day-to-day communication about the issues that matter to them and their lives.

QUESTION: Do you know if any of them were released, as he said they would be?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’ve got a list that’s being prepared. I don’t know if the list has yet this early in the morning been turned over as we speak, but we will turn over a list and we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: There seems to be many agreements between the U.S. and Cuba, but there’s one issue where they’re very far apart, and that’s the issue of human rights, as it was very evident yesterday in the press conference. You’ve said in the past that the embargo would not be lifted unless there’s improvement on the human rights record of Cuba, yet yesterday the President said he believed that the embargo would be lifted. Would that happen if there is no progress in the human rights record in Cuba?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think the President is really referring to – it would be lifted over a period of time, because there will be, I’m confident, changes taking place. Changes are taking place in Cuba even now. I mean, I know some people want some dramatic announcement that all of a sudden, okay, here’s the new rules of the road, but that’s not the way it’s going to happen. But there is more political space today in Cuba than there was before the announcement of our embassy and before I came here to raise the flag, and in the year following, more people are traveling, more people are exchanging information, more people are meeting. There is an atmosphere of transformation that is taking place, and it doesn’t happen overnight anywhere. It has never happened; it’s been a slow, long building process in most places.

I believe that in Cuba the fact that the President of the United States today is going to speak regarding everything that’s on his mind and our mind regarding the relationship is an enormous sea change. This speech will – is a televised speech of the President of the United States in Havana talking to the Cuban people. That’s a change, and so people need to measure these things carefully, I think. Are we where we want to be? No. But are we slowly beginning to build a transformation? I believe the answer to that is yes, and I think even the Cuban Government would tell you yes.

QUESTION: You met with negotiators from the Colombian Government and from the FARC. Did you get the impression that they are ready to sign a peace agreement, and how would the U.S. benefit from it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re not ready yet. They still need to negotiate a few difficult issues. They have made great progress, and I salute both sides for the courage that has brought them to the table and for their willingness to commit to a difficult process. Ending 50 years of conflict is not easy, but they’ve determined to try. We are determined to support that effort, and so we have a special envoy involved in the talks, Bernie Aronson. I’ve been personally engaged with President Santos, with – I’ve met previously with the government negotiators. Yesterday I met for the first time with the FARC negotiators. And I encouraged them to finish this job, to try to keep moving. The United States is prepared to be helpful, to be part of the peace process, to help provide security, to help with the narcotrafficking fight, to help with the alternative crops and the demining, to help build judicial institutions.

All of these things are important to us, important to every country in the region. They’re important to Cuba, they’re important to the rest of Latin America. Why? Because having a stable, active democracy at peace with itself where you end conflict is to open the doors wide to full economic opportunity, to full political opportunity, and to give people the opportunity to share in the enormous transformation economically that is taking place across the planet.

QUESTION: Will the FARC be removed from the list of terrorist organizations if there is a peace agreement signed?

SECRETARY KERRY: If appropriate, absolutely. We will make the judgment. I mean, that is something that we analyze on an ongoing basis. But if there is a peace agreement and FARC is no longer engaged in any activities deemed to be terrorist activities, of course the appropriate action would be taken.

QUESTION: And one personal question: How did it feel to be in the Palace of the Revolution in Cuba and listening to the Star-Spangled Banner?

SECRETARY KERRY: It was quite moving. I mean, it was very impressive, obviously, to hear the Star-Spangled Banner twice within about a half-hour – once at the memorial and once in the palace. I think it’s – it just underscores how, if you have courageous leaders who are prepared to take big steps and make things happen, you can change things and you can change life for the better for people. There are millions of people who can be positively affected by the improvement of the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

And ultimately, it’s an example to people all across the world about how we can continue to end conflict. We did it after World War II. We made peace with Germany and peace with Japan and we built two strong, reliable allies and democratic nations. So change comes in different packages in different places, but it is no less important to fight for it in a small island country like Cuba, close to the United States, which has such incredible ties to our country – it’s no less important to fight for it there than it would be in the case of the largest countries in the world.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary.