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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Daniel Fisk
Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs
National Security Council
July 14, 2006

Daniel Fisk
Good afternoon. I'm the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs on the National Security Council. It is my pleasure today to discuss the President's policy toward Cuba, and to discuss the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and the Compact with the People of Cuba.

Camille, from New London, Wisconsin writes:
What democratic friends and allies from around the world have recently join the United States in supporting freedom for the Cuban people?

Daniel Fisk
Thank you for your question, Camille. There is a growing international consensus around the right of the Cuban people to debate and define their democratic future and to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba contains a number of recommended measures designed to help consolidate that growing consensus and to support the Cuban people in this process. There are a variety of countries around the world that have supported the Cuban people by condemning the human rights practices of the Cuban regime. For example, in 2005, the countries that voted, along with us on the UN Human Rights Commission, to condemn these human rights practices included: Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Armenia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Part of this growing consensus is the support of international leaders, such as former Czech President Havel and the former President of Poland, Lech Walesa. They have been very supportive of the Cuban dissident movement and hope for a democratic Cuba.

Emilio, from Miami, FL writes:
In lieu of the recent publication by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, will the administration change it's policy towards Cuba after 46 years of obvious stagnant and unfruitful policy implementation? It seems U.S. politicians benefit as much as Fidel Castro domestically by keeping in place current policy that has not produced any results since the embargo was first implemented. There are steps that have been taken with China, Vietnam, and others that prove the US-Cuba policy to be hypocritical and irrational. Please shed some light on our policy decisions towards Cuba. Thank you. Emilio - American Citizen Bay of Pigs Veteran

Daniel Fisk
Thank you for your question. Cuba is different from China and Vietnam in many ways and understanding those differences is important to informing our policy toward Cuba. Take China for an example. China is in the midst of an historic transformation from a centrally-planned economy to a market economy. Increasing openness to trade and foreign investment is central to this process, as is the integration of China into the institutions (and the responsibilities) that govern the global trading system. The Castro regime has rejected pursuing a market economy and has taken no steps to allow Cubans greater freedoms. Cuba has a brutal dictatorship that continues to repress dissent and makes many basic activities a crime, including in the economic sphere.

Further, there is no transparency in the Castro regime that would indicate any opportunity for making any economic transformation. Despite the significant increase in international tourism in Cuba over the past decade and the revenue associated with that, the Cuban people remain deprived of basic needs. The trade, investment and tourism revenues that flow into Cuba are controlled by the regime and serve only to enrich it. Forbes magazine estimates Fidel Castro’s wealth at $900 million while the Cuban people struggle to meet the daily needs of their families. US policy towards Cuba seeks to assist the Cuban people, including in fulfilling their aspirations for a transition to democracy and a free-market economy. As set forth in U.S. law, US economic sanctions against Cuba can be lifted once there is a transition government that has taken meaningful steps towards democracy, including freeing all political prisoners, lifting restrictions on political parties, and moving towards free and fair elections. The Cuban people will finally prosper when they are out from under the totalitarian dictatorship of the Castro regime.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Daniel, Are refugees from Cuba, who attempt to cross the ocean to get to U.S. soil, very common? I remember hearing a story about a group who landed on a bridge that was far off of U.S. shores and then they were returned to Cuba. Their family here in the U.S. was upset and knew that they would have repercussions once they were returned. What is the U.S. position on this? Thank You

Daniel Fisk
Good question, Kim. Cubans seeking to escape the dreadful conditions in Cuba attempt to come to the United States every day. The United States grants visas to over 20,000 Cubans a year to come to the U.S. legally. We encourage safe, orderly, legal migration from Cuba and do not want Cubans risking their lives at sea trying to escape. The case you refer to occurred in January 2006. Of the 15 Cubans in this case, humanitarian parole was offered to 14 of them. They are still in Cuba waiting for the Castro regime to grant them exit visas to come to the United States. As is frequently the case, the Castro regime deliberately holds up the exit visas to demonstrate its totalitarian grip over the Cuban people. We are hopeful the regime will soon grant exit visas to those 14 Cubans.

rozino, from houston, tx writes:
Can we at least loosen the embargo on cigars? thanks a mil, Rozino

Daniel Fisk
The embargo serves a very important role in our policy toward Cuba, which is to deny the resources that empower the totalitarian dictatorship to continue to stifle freedom in Cuba. Central to the regime’s strategy for survival is its “sand, sun, rum, and cigars” image. The regime uses the revenue from these transactions, including the sale of cigars, to maintain its repressive security apparatus. The stepped-up enforcement measures taken by this Administration have denied the regime hundreds of millions of dollars. Until the Cuban people are free, I would encourage you to try some of the cigars made by free people in the democratic countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Bahamas, and others.

James, from Berlin, Germany writes:
I have heard that the State Department is considering limiting or regulating American churches' relationship with the Cuban Council of Churches. Is this really going to happen? If so, doesn't it violate the American principle of religious freedom and the rights of ecumenical organizations to freely choose their Christian partners around the world?

Daniel Fisk
Thank you for your question, James. U.S. policy is to encourage direct support to the Cuban people, including independent religious organizations of all types. The Cuban Council of Churches, however, along with the Cuban Office of Religious Affairs, is an arm of the Ministry of Interior, and is used to exert political control over the Cuban people. The recommendations in the second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba do not prohibit humanitarian donations in any way to Cuban churches or other independent groups, but do seek to prevent the CCC and other regime agencies from manipulating assistance for its political aims.

Spencer, from Colorado Springs writes:
Mr. Fisk, I have heard that Cuba has a lot of medical technologies that the United States does not have and can not get because of the trade embargo. Is this true, and if so what medical technologies?

Daniel Fisk
Spencer, we do license the importation of medical items from Cuba where there is a direct benefit to the public health in the U.S. These cases are carefully reviewed to prevent the Cuban regime from gaining access to sensitive technologies or additional hard currency. Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism and so a number of restrictions are in place in this area.

Tomas, from Brooklyn writes:
Enough about Cuba, what about a free Puerto Rico? What about a stable Haiti? What about a US that doesn't have to forcefully indoctrinate the world in state-sponsored capitalism? I understand if you don't answer these questions, as they are difficult and would require you to change your own worldview.

Daniel Fisk
Thank you for your excellent questions, Tomas. Puerto Rico is free. The question of an independent Puerto Rico, while routinely debated, remains a question that Puerto Ricans themselves must resolve through democratic means—and they’re free to do so. As you likely know, Haitians exercised their right to vote and elected President Rene Preval just a few months ago. The United States continues to stand with the Haitian people with significant financial and material aid in their quest for stability and prosperity. The election of President Preval and reforms that are being undertaken in Haiti are evidence of that progress. The benefits of a free, open society, with free market economies are evident around the world. U.S. policy seeks to help the Cuban people exercise the same freedoms that Puetro Ricans – and you and I – enjoy.

Andy, from Miami writes:
Dan: The report, in different sections, states that Castro's regime negatively affects the US national interest. i.e "Chapter 1, Determinations, sixth paragraph" Has the Commission considered using "the national security of the US" instead? "Interest" can be interpreted as economic, socially, etc, but the real danger of Castro actions is our national security. He is a dangerous enemy of our country

Daniel Fisk
Andy, thanks for your question. Castro is exactly as you describe him: a dangerous enemy of the United States, as well as to democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere. In drafting the report, we thought the reference to "U.S. national interests" was the most succinct way to state this.

John, from Long Island, NY writes:
After the death of Castiro, who is going to replace him.

Daniel Fisk
We don’t know who will replace Fidel Castro. It will be up to the Cuban people to make that decision. Given the Western Hemisphere’s commitment to democracy, through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Cuban people should be allowed to make leadership choices through democratic, multi-party elections.

Diana, from chicago writes:
Why does the U.S. think it has the right to have any authority over Cuba?

I object to my government spending a dime on planning for Cuba's future. I want Cuban people to plan their own destiny even if it is not to the liking of the U.S.

Daniel Fisk
Diana, I don't think the United States has any authority over Cuba. We do agree that the Cuban people should be able to plan and decide their own destiny. It is Castro and his regime that oppose that very concept. As for the work of the Commission for Assistance to A Free Cuba, it seeks to help prepare the U.S. Government to assist free Cubans, should they request assistance. It is not to make any decisions for them, but to be prepared to respond to decisions they freely make. We would hope Cubans would have the same freedoms that we and others in this Hemisphere enjoy, including the right to disagree with officials on a web chat. Cubans don't have that right now.

Miguel, from Florida writes:
Thank you for your service. What does the commission do? What are its goals?

Daniel Fisk
Miguel, President Bush established the Cabinet-level Commission on October 10, 2003 to explore ways the U.S. can help hasten and ease a democratic transition in Cuba. The purpose of the Commission is to help the U.S. Government to assist the Cuban people, should they request assistance, to:

  1. Bring about a peaceful, near-term end to the dictatorship;
  2. Establish democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the rule of law;
  3. Create the core institutions of a free economy;
  4. Modernize infrastructure; and
  5. Meet basic needs in the areas of health, education, housing, and human services.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reconvened the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba on December 19, 2005, sending an important message to the people of Cuba, the current dictatorship, and our friends and democratic allies: after 46 years of cruel dictatorship, now is the time for change in Cuba.

James, from Pittsburgh writes:
Why am I not allowed to travel to Cuba? It seems rather silly to impose a restriction like that when it is very easy to enter Cuba from Canada, Mexico, and other countries that do not restrict travel there.

Daniel Fisk
James, we encourage Americans to directly support the Cuban people, including through legal travel to the island. We agree that this type of interaction is important. However, we are concerned about the misuse of tourism, which is a major source of revenue for the Castro regime and its repressive structure. If you would like to know more about legal travel to Cuba to help the Cuban people, then I would direct you to the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Director Fisk: With Cuba just 90 miles from the most powerful country in the world and all the past history of the conflicts of these two. What does this FREE CUBA REPORT attempt to do that has not been tried? Thank You

Daniel Fisk
The report sets out a number of new measures that seek to help the Cuban people hasten the end of the Castro dictatorship. The report of the Commission for Assistance to A Free Cuba makes recommendations regarding support for independent Cubans and breaking the regime's information blockade on the Cuban people. I refer you to the Commission report at Thanks for your question.

Lee, from Mesa, Arizona writes:
There are a few legislators attempting to remove our restrictions against the Castro regime and trying to open up visitation and trade with Cuba. What is the administration able to do about it, and what do we have to do to convince them that appeasement never works. If anything, we should tighten up the controls against Castro and hope that he dies soon

Daniel Fisk
Lee, thanks for your question. The President has made clear that any loosening of U.S. policies on trade and travel should only be considered in the context of democratic change in Cuba. The President offered in 2002 to revisit those specific policies if Castro would allow a genuine, multiparty election for the National Assembly. Castro's response was a sham, one-party election and the most brutal human rights crackdown in decades. Consistently, the President has issued veto threats should Congress attempt to overturn our trade and travel restrictions without freedom for the Cuban people.

Tyler, from Oregon writes:
Mr. Fisk- It strikes me that the general population of Cuba is currently being subjected to two embargos - one by the US and one by their own government. The former serves as a rather convenient cover for the effects of the latter, and allows the current regime in Cuba to direct criticism which ought to be directed at that regime towards the US. Perhaps lifting the US embargo, or dramatically altering it, would force the Cuban population to consider more seriously the effects of the latter embargo. Along with a greater flow of democratic ideas, this would have profound impact on the political viability of the current regime. Is there a strong reason (besides that of precedent, of which there is a lot in this case) for not pursuing this policy?

Daniel Fisk
Cubans suffer from an embargo placed on them by the Castro regime. It is the regime that restricts their freedom and their ability to prosper. It is that simple. Lifting our restrictions would only benefit the regime. When the Castro embargo on the Cuban people ends, there is every reason to expect that nation to prosper.

Daniel Fisk
Thank you for so many thoughtful questions. As I noted in this web chat, the Castro regime continues to repress the Cuban people and deny them their fundamental rights, as well as continuing to pose a security threat to the United States and the democratic progress of the Western Hemisphere. The people of Cuba deserve all of the support we can give them and this President will remain steadfast in his efforts to help them achieve a free and democratic society. Thanks again.

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