Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen statement on new U.S. policy on Cuba

Miami Republican issues statement during 'Cuba: Assessing the Administration's Sudden Shift' House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing

Local 10 News' Michael Putney listens to day 2 of Congressional hearings on Cuba
Local 10 News' Michael Putney listens to day 2 of Congressional hearings on Cuba

"Thank you Mr. Chairman and I strongly second your grave concerns about the way foreign policy is being run from the White House by secretly negotiating with the Castro regime while keeping the Congress, the American people and even their own diplomats in the dark. This foreign policy decision is in line with the President's other examples of executive overreach and bypassing consultations with Congress.


Just like the Taliban 5 trade with Bergdahl, the President has established a dangerous precedent that the United States does in fact negotiate with terrorists, putting a target on every American's back and jeopardizing our national security. Ever since the secret negotiations began in June 2013, this is what the Castro regime has been doing since day one of the talks as the US establishes diplomatic relations:


o          July 15, 2013 – a North Korean-flagged cargo ship called Chong Chon Gang was caught in Panama after it left Cuba heading to North Korea. After inspections, the shipment included various components of surface-to-air missile systems and launchers, MiG-21 jet fighters parts and engines, shell casings, and rocket propelled projectiles as the cargo was hidden under 200,000 bags of sugar.

o          October 6, 2013 - over 135 democracy activists arrested in one day throughout Cuba. Also arrested was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who was dragged through the street by her hair, and her husband, Angel Moya was also arrested.

o          November 4, 2013 – a young Cuban artist known as a Critico was on the verge of death due to a hunger strike.

o          January 24, 2014 – Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was arrested. He was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush

o          June 11, 2014 - Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", Yris Perez Aguilera, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, Angel Moya, and others arrested.

o          July 16, 2014 – Cuba and Russia agreed to re-open the Lourdes spying facility.

o          In fact, in 2014, Mr. Chairman, it led to almost 9,000 arrests of pro-democracy leaders in one year – almost a 40% percent increase from 2013, while we were in negotiations in 2013 and 2014.

o          And last month, while the US delegation arrived in Havana a Russian spy ship docked in Cuba.

o          And just last week, the Castro regime sentenced a Cuban rapper, a young man known as "El Dkano" to an one-year prison sentence, and check out the charge: for "dangerousness likely leading to a crime". That is an actual charge in Castro's Cuba.

o          And two days ago just to wrap it up; a Cuban pro-democracy activist Arelis Palacio was brutally beaten all over her face and body. She told state security: "I'd rather die than remain quiet and accept this."


All of this happened while the US was secretly negotiating with the Castro regime. Shame on us."


First Questions asked by Ros-Lehtinen:


"The U.S. has been negotiating in secret with this sadistic dictatorship for now 20 months because it's still a secret. For eighteen of those months, the White House negotiated in super-secret to trade three convicted Cuban spies for an innocent American. Even if you say that was not swap, that is just so disingenuous.


Assistant Secretary Jacobson, this week in the Senate – just yesterday – you testified: ‘this policy is not based on the Castro regime changing [and you've said more or less that now]. We have no illusions over that.' So let me get this straight: We are telegraphing to the Castro regime ahead of time that it doesn't have to change – ‘we have no illusions that it's going to change' – to get further concessions from this administration. What is the point of the negotiations then? You say: ‘we're negotiating, we have no illusions, let's see where this leads us.'  


The media has been reporting just this week that arrests in Cuba for last month in January decreased to ‘only' 178 – making it seem like the arrest of peaceful pro-democracy activists, 178 of them, is a low number. Only in Castro's Cuba could the arrests of 178 people in one month be considered a victory.


For the President's State of the Union address last month I invited Marlene Alejandre – the daughter of Armando Alejandre. They were also kept in the dark about this ‘trade/non-trade', this ‘swap/non-swap.' Her father was murdered by the Castro reimge when his Brothers to the Rescue plane was shot down over international waters. On December 17th, the President released and pardoned Gerardo Hernandez, a Cuban spy who was convicted in our U.S. courts for conspiracy to commit murder for his connection to the shootdown. The Alejandre family wanted me to ask these questions Assistant Secretary Jacobson: how will I explain to my three little girls that their U.S. Marine Vietnam veteran grandfather was denied the only justice for his murder when Gerardo Hernandez set free, pardoned, and returned to Cuba? Next question: why was the US so willing to give Gerardo Hernandez the opportunity to father a child while he was in prison, very interesting, when some of the victims of the shoot down will never be able to have children of their own?


As if negotiating in secret is not bad enough, the Castro regime continues to defy this administration, as the Chairman and Ranking Member said, by setting preconditions publicly on the negotiations, such as demanding the return of land of Guantanamo, which is so vital to U.S. national security interests. It's so pathetic for this strong, wonderful, generous country to look so weak when negotiating with the Castro regime. Isn't it true that Cuba owes American taxpayers at least $8 billion in certified claims for the unlawful taking of property, of businesses, of unpaid debts owed to American citizens? Isn't it true that Cuba has failed to pay these claims for close to sixty years? And isn't it true that U.S. law requires that these claims be resolved before relations be normalized?


So I urge all of your departments to explain how illegally confiscated properties will be resolved. U.S. claim holders deserve their claims to be protected, don't you agree? And Assistant Secretary Jacobson, it is important to note that what the Castro regime will do with this new assistance that President Obama is going to provide on telecommunications. Now in 2012, Pope Benedict visited the island, as you know. The Castro regime responded with rounding up and arresting hundreds of civil society individuals and blocked the phones of opposition leaders.


And as we know, Castro had an American jailed for 5 years for trying to provide internet equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba. The track record is clear about Castro and his hatred of this telecommunications equipment. And in these latest misguided talks, the Castro regime asked the U.S. Interests Section to stop providing internet services for the Cuban people. So his track record is clear that he has no intent of opening up internet or telecommunications opportunities; in fact if given that opportunity it's probably going to be used to further oppress the people of Cuba.


Did Secretary Kerry lie to the United States Congress when he told us that we would not free these convicted murderers, these convicted spies, or was he kept in the dark of these negotiations? And were you part of the negotiations from the start or did you enter them later on?"


Second Questions asked by Ros-Lehtinen:


"And following up on your thought about the victims of brutality, wherever those victims are, I wanted to give Ms. Jacobson the opportunity - Assistant Secretary Jacobson – to answer the Alejandre family questions.  How can Marlene Alejandre explain to her daughters why their grandfather, who was killed by the Castro regime; his life meant nothing? Why was the person who was in jail as a co-conspirator of the murder of her father pardoned, set free, and returned to Cuba to receive a hero's welcome? What does she say to her girls?


When she was told by you and others that a trade would not take place, a trade by any other name, this is a swap.  Was it not?  Had the State Department not met with the family? Didn't the State Department, time and time and time again tell her that Gerardo Hernandez would not be set free by this administration?  Yes or no?  Did Secretary Kerry state right here to us that such a swap would not take place? You just called it something else and say that you were always telling the truth?  Were the Brothers to the Rescue families under the impression, because you gave it to them, that an exchange would not take place? That Gerardo Hernandez would serve the complete sentence?


Did you give that impression at any time, or anyone at the State Department?  An impression? That is all that they had? They had a false impression that all of this time that you were meeting with them? While you were meeting with them, you were already cooking up this swap or whatever you call it.  That Gerardo Hernandez for all intents and purposes; what happened is that he was set free, he was pardoned by President Obama, he was returned to Cuba, he was given a hero's welcome. But that was just the impression that they got, it was a false impression? Because you were never going to do that…while you met with him.


Don't you at least feel a little bit bad that you were lying to them?  My time is over; I am going to enjoy listening to the families when they hear that testimony coming from you - just pathetic."


Third Questions asked by Ros-Lehtinen:


"The Foreign Claims Commission has found that there are almost 6,ooo U.S. claims that are judged to be qualified for compensation by the Castro dictatorship. The adjudicated value of those claims, by adding a 6% simple interest, according to this commission, makes the total principle value of American claims to over $8 billion today. I don't think the State Department will enforce Helms-Burton by investigating trafficking and confiscated U.S. property nor enable U.S. property owners to secure compensation for the unauthorized use of property subject to a claim. Do you think that you will or won't?


And I also worry that the Administration will use our influence to go even further. Will we try to help Cuba get membership into the World Bank, into the IMF, into the IDB, other multi-lateral development banks? Will we prevent any assistance, any financing, or any other benefit from these institutions until U.S. property claims have been resolved to the satisfaction of American owners? And lastly, if you could tell us what are the three conditions according to U.S. law under Helms-Burton for the embargo to be lifted? And I know the president is going to present us legislation to free up the embargo, what of those three conditions have been met that would satisfy the embargo or justify the embargo being lifted? So first on the claims of what we are going to do, if we are going to help Cuba get into these organizations and then the three conditions under Helms-Burton.


You say ‘right now,' do you foresee that Cuba will be moving in that direction?


But just as we said that we weren't going to swap spies and we did, even though – a rose by any other name but you call it something else – will we be advocating for Cuba's inclusion in these international organizations that would allow it to give it credit to continue to oppress the people?


Because we're keeping them, these institutions, are keeping them from opening their economy?


Let's go to the three conditions under Helms-Burton. What are the three conditions that would allow the lifting of the embargo and what of those three have been met by the Castro regime?


I hope that when you are negotiating with the Castro regime you keep in mind U.S. law. U.S. law is the LIBERTAD Act of 1996. The president is calling for the lifting of the embargo. Please go and check that out because that is U.S. law and we are hoping that you will abide by that."