Secretary Of State Tillerson Discusses Cuba Before Visit To The Americas

Secretary's Remarks: On U.S. Engagement in the Western Hemisphere

Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Austin, Texas

February 1, 2018


Elsewhere we will continue to encourage others in the region, like Cuba, who disregard their people and ignore this democratic moment in Latin America, to give their people the freedom that they deserve.

Cuba has an opportunity in their own transfer of power from decades of the Castro regime to take a new direction. In June, President Trump laid out a new vision for our approach to Cuba – one that supports the Cuban people by steering economic activity away from the military, intelligence, and security service which disregard their freedom.

The administration’s policy – as written in the National Security Presidential Memorandum – also seeks to, quote, “ensure that the engagement between the United States and Cuba advances the interests of the United States and that of the Cuban people.”

It includes advancing human rights and encouraging the nascent private sector in Cuba. The future of our relationship is up to Cuba – the United States will continue to support the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.

Venezuela and Cuba remind us that for our hemisphere to grow and thrive, we must prioritize and promote democratic values.

MR INBODEN: So I want to come back to another country that you mentioned towards the end of your – end of your speech, and that’s Cuba, one of the two remaining tyrannies in the region along with Venezuela. President Trump has been quite critical of the Obama administration’s previous normalization process with Cuba, with the Castro regime. But as you mentioned in June when the President announced some new regulations – or a few months ago, in November when he announced some new regulations, some Cuban American groups worried that those didn’t go far enough in reversing the previous administration’s policies. So what would you say are your strategic priorities towards Cuba going forward?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, as I mentioned, they’re – they will be going through a transfer of power – supposed to this year, we’ll see whether it happens this year or not, but – and this will be, in all likelihood, the first transfer of power that Cuba has not been led under a Castro regime, so that we think there are opportunities, perhaps, for – an opportunity to shift towards a more open and democratic future. That’s what we’re hoping.

With respect to our objectives with Cuba, and the – I think President Trump’s analysis – and I agree with it – of the terms with Cuba that were in place when we took office, that an awful lot had been given to the Cuban Government, and not much had been received in return, other than a clear economic opportunity for U.S. business interests, which is great.

But that was coming on the backs of the Cuban people, who are still very repressed. So we have taken a shift, we preserved a lot of that, but basically said, “Yes, we do want to support the Cuban people.” We’re not interested in supporting the Cuban regime. And as you know, the government and the security forces and others have a significant presence in almost all economic activity. So one of our objectives was to separate that and allow the Cuban people to have a more full, rewarding participation in that economy, and limit what we’re – what the government is benefiting from through their ownership.

So that was one of the significant changes, but again, it’s all – it’s all directed at how do we help the Cuban people. That’s what we want to do is help the Cuban people, and we are hopeful, and we stay – we do stay engaged with the Cuban authorities that – in this transition, can they find their way to maybe a different future? I don’t know. We’ll see.