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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.

Carlos Gutierrez
Secretary of Commerce

October 24, 2007

Carlos Gutierrez
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss with my fellow Americans our relationship with Cuba, which I believe is an important foreign policy issue today.

While a majority of our regional neighbors are moving forward on the paths of progress, there are those in Latin America who do not share our vision of equal opportunity for everyone. In Cuba, people remain repressed as the economy remains closed. Restrictions on the Cuban people have nothing to do with the U.S. embargo. They have everything to do with the oppressive Castro regime.

We recognize the future of Cuba is in the hands of the citizens of Cuban. We hope that some day we can welcome Cuba into the community of democracies and into a hemisphere of freedom, hope and opportunity for all.

I hope I can shed some light on the issue of our relations with Cuba by answering a few of your questions.

Jason, from Manhattan Beach, CA writes:
Hello Secretary Gutierrez. I was wondering why the U.S. has a no-trade policy with Cuba and Embargos. While I understand that they are a communist regime, isn't China, as well? The U.S. does not seem to make a fuss, trading, or doing any sort of business with them. If it is a matter of human rights then again what about China's record? I was lastly wondering why we do not have much of a relationship with Cuba when most of the world such as Europe does have one.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you, Jason, for your insightful question. We believe that open economies create opportunity and growth. When people are allowed to invest, make business decisions, be entrepreneurs and have a wide range of consumer choices, economies and people flourish. Though China does not have a full, market economy it does exhibit much of the behaviors and benefits of an open economy. In China, people can open a business. They can invest. There is a tremendous amount of choice for consumers. A Chinese worker can get paid directly for their work. The Cuban people don’t enjoy the same opportunities. And, though millions of dollars have poured into Cuba from Canada, Europe and other points around the globe, it has not benefited the average Cuban. More investment and money spent in Cuba means more money lining the pockets of the Cuban dictator and his cronies. Instead of comparing Cuba with China, we should compare Cuba to other countries that are similar, such as North Korea.

John, from DC writes:
Hello Secretary Gutierrez: Fidel Castro is a dying man. When he's dead and gone, what plans and policy will the White House impliment in order to ensure that there is a free democracy providing the ideals of life and liberty to Cubans currently living under communist rule? Thanks you for addressing my question.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thanks, John. I am happy to answer your question. Since July 2005, I have had the privilege to co-chair, with Secretary Rice, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President Bush in 2003. Cuba is at a critical point in its history and is poised for change. The policy of the Bush Administration has been to help the Cuban people achieve their freedom through democratic change, and not to turn our backs on them by allowing another regime to maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people. Last year, we issued a “Compact with the People of Cuba,” which clearly lays out the intentions of the U.S. government. The United States stands ready to work with the Cuban people to attain political and economic liberty.

James, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota writes:
Why do we continue to sanction and shun Cuba when it has not been a threat to us in over 30 years?

Carlos Gutierrez
Good question, James. Over the past decades, the Western Hemisphere has moved forward in significant ways: economically, politically, culturally. Under the Castro dictatorship, however, Cuba has moved backward. As long as regime resources are available, a threat is posed. The embargo was put in place for one major reason: to deny Castro the resources to do damage to this country and other countries in the world.

Andrey, from Florida writes:
Good day, Secretary Gutierrez. Thanks for bringing such interesting topic. I have two questions. 1. Why treatment of Cuban illegal immigration is different from other illegal? I meant so called Dry land law. If they are refugees so why does USCIS deport back home everyone caught in a sea and grants status to everyone landed?

2. With the end of cold war Cuba that once was important strategic island became ordinary non-democratic country, no different from others similar. It will be interesting to know why does Cuban problem is still a problem in 2007? Dont you think that all these economic sanctions and immigration exceptions are blast from the past?

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you for your questions, Andrey. Our policy consists of safe, legal and orderly migration. The focus needs to be on the desired change in Cuba; which the people want. Cubans want political freedom and opportunity. They have the spirit of freedom in their hearts—the ability to invent, to dream and to create a society of prosperity, equality and hope. Cuba is one of the few remaining communist nations in the world, so while the rest of the world has moved on from failed Marxist policies, Cuba has not. “Blast from the past” is the Cuban regime and Cubans deserve a better future.

Scott, from Washington, DC writes:
How do you expect Cuba's allies to behave once the turnover of power is complted? For example, Hugo Chavez has been pressing in his influence, trying to engage Castro and his followers all the more - will this alliance deteriorate or evolve once Castro has passed?

Carlos Gutierrez
I appreciate your question, Scott. It is important that we prove that through freedom, equal opportunity and the power of individual initiative and creativity, Latin Americans can achieve growth and prosperity. Cuba provides us with a very vivid example of what “revolutionary” rhetoric delivers. Our positive vision empowers the people of the region with the tools to take ownership and improve their lives. There is a choice and the Cuban people must know they can make their own decisions and march toward progress. History has shown that eventually every regime that denies fundamental freedoms and human rights will deteriorate.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
What would be our suggestions for the next leader of Cuba to be?

Carlos Gutierrez
That is a thought provoking question, Michael, thank you. This year, I’ve been speaking about what I call the “promise of the Western Hemisphere.” It is one of freedom, growth, prosperity and social justice. When you have freedom and growth, everything is possible—education, social programs, health care, environmental programs. Growth empowers people with the tools to take ownership and improve their lives. It promotes trade and investment. It encourages economic expansion. I would suggest that the next leader of Cuba give Cubans the freedom to strive for a better life.

John, from Richmond, California writes:
With respect to the new measures against Cuba announced by President Bush, I have the following question for Mr. Gutierrez, our Secretary of Commerce: How is it that punishing an entire people, depriving them of food medicineetc. through economic sanctions, is to bring about change in a country (Cuba) where the vast majority of its citizens support the government they currently have? It seems to me that the Cuban people are being punished for choosing a leadership that does not meet the needs of our foreign policy objectives.

Carlos Gutierrez
First of all the Cuban people, did not choose their leadership. Cuba is run by a dictatorship. We would like to see political parties allowed in Cuba so that free elections can take place and the people of Cuba can truly choose their leaders. It is important to note that the communist regime in Cuba, and no one else, has punished the people of Cuba.

With today’s announcement President Bush wants to engage the international community so that we can help the Cuban people achieve the fundamental freedoms and human rights that we all take for granted. We recognize that in the end, it is the Cuban people who are in charge of their own destiny.

Bill, from Australia writes:
Why don't you believe lifting the economic blockade on Cuba and opening up trade relations with Cuba instead won't work the same way as it did in Eastern Europe?

Carlos Gutierrez
Thanks, mate, good question. The changes in the Soviet Union started within the Soviet Union. We believe that the changes in Cuba will also start inside Cuba. So, it is not Washington’s policy that needs to change, it is the Cuban political, economic and social system that needs to change.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you for your great questions.

The President today announced a new initiative to develop an international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba. This fund would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy and make the transition to democracy. The President asked Secretary Rice and myself to enlist foreign governments and international organizations to contribute to this initiative.

The Cuban government must demonstrate that it has adopted, in word and deed, fundamental freedoms. These include the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of press, freedom to form political parties, and the freedom to change the government through periodic, multi-party elections. And once these freedoms are in place, the fund will be able to give Cubans -- especially Cuban entrepreneurs -- access to grants, loans and debt relief to help rebuild their country.

Cuba is at a critical point in time. The country is poised for change. The policy of the Bush Administration has been to help the Cuban people hasten the day of their freedom, and not to do them a great disservice by legitimizing a successor regime and helping it maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people.

As we've stated in our Compact with the People of Cuba, "Cubans who want democratic change should count on our friendship and support." The U.S. will hold to that promise. The people of Cuba deserve freedom, dignity and true social justice. We share the dream of a better tomorrow for them and their families.

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