Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today he supports democracy programs targeting Cuba and will look into why the proposed budget for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting for 2022 has been slashed from around $20 million to under $13 million.
Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Blinken said U.S. officials are reviewing U.S. policy toward Cuba “very carefully” as they look for the best way to promote “a free and democratic Cuba.”
A transcript of Blinken’s exchange with Diaz-Balart is below. Download audio or watch on YouTube.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
Madame Chairwoman, thank you very much. Mr. Secretary. Good to see you, sir. Uh, let me bring us, uh, to Venezuela. So I don’t have to tell you that the Maduro regime continues to, um, violate human rights. Uh, there are obviously no free and fair elections. Uh, uh, political prisoners are still held in captivity. There’s a lack of democratic institutions, independent media, uh, free and fair expression, and obviously ties, continuous ties with anti-American terrorist groups and regimes. Uh, am I to believe that I, and I hope I am, ‘cause I I’ve read in different instances that those factors and maybe others, uh, mean that you will continue to support the sanctions against the Maduro regime in Venezuela?
Secretary of State Antony Blinken
I’ll repeat it. I’m not sure if I, I may have been on mute. Uh, the short answer to your question is yes. Not only, uh, not only congressmen will we continue to support sanctions, but uh, we want to try to work as effectively as possible with others, uh, to bring them along in, um, increasing, uh, the pressure on, uh, Maduro and on the regime.
Well, that’s good to hear Mr. Secretary and U.S. leadership matters, right? Um, and so, um, you’re obviously aware of the, uh, what, uh, let me now go to a different country, what the OAS secretary has called the army of occupation of Cubans in Venezuela. Uh, those same conditions that I just mentioned in Venezuela that merit, uh, the sanctions, uh, exist, uh, in Cuba. Uh, are you aware of any of those conditions that don’t exist in Cuba? Uh, and, and so therefore, well, why would we not be supporting sanctioning the Castro regime that on top of having those same conditions, they also have, uh, have spread their influence in other parts of the, of, of the hemisphere, including obviously Venezuela and Nicaragua. So I’m assuming that the answer would be the same, correct?
Um, the Congress, when it comes to Cuba, this is something that, uh, this is a policy that we’re reviewing, uh, very carefully. Uh, and in, as part of that review, uh, we were seeking, uh, the views, uh, including yours and other members of Congress, uh, other stakeholders, uh, people with different perspectives on the issue, uh, whether it’s, uh, in Congress, uh, activists, journalists, uh, faith based leaders, uh, academics, experts inside and outside of Cuba, because we are really focused on trying to make sure that, uh, we, uh, think through and work through the best way to, uh, advance the goals that we all share, uh, which is for a free and democratic, uh, Cuba.
But you would agree that the same conditions that I just mentioned about, Venezuela apply to Cuba, if anything, more so, right?
I think, uh, there are differences, uh, in, uh, in specific stuff between the two, but the overall concerns that we have both with regard to the absence of, uh, democracy in Venezuela and the absence of democracy in Cuba. Yes.
Good. And I, Mr. Secretary, I don’t see how one could say that the conditions that exist in Venezuela again, and they also exist in Cuba, if anything worse, and they’ve been there longer. Um, uh, and then why you can then say that one merits sanctions and the other one doesn’t, particularly when Cuba has thousands and thousands of, again what the OAS secretary calls, the army of occupation, occupation of Venezuela. So just, uh, you know, something to consider. Um, I want to thank you by the way, while we’re speaking of Cuba for providing the 20 million for democracy assistance to Cuba, something that I think is desperately needed at this time, you talked about it in your opening statement about, uh, your budget support to democracy programs, and you also talked about free and independent press. I am concerned, however about, uh, and very disappointed that, uh, less than $13 million was requested for the office of Cuba broadcasting. And that’s nearly $7 million less than what was provided in FYI 2021. And that, that was done by Congress in a bipartisan way. Uh, and again, um, you know, the reason I’m behind a massive increases in other areas and get specifically targeting OCB. Um, and again, I’m always concerned about why is the regime in Cuba, uh, somehow treated differently, uh, than, than, than other places around the world, including in this hemisphere. So if you want to, again, very concerned about, uh, that rather substantial cut from what Congress had done in the last few years.
Uh, thank you. And, uh, look, I’ll certainly take a, take a look at that. Um, we are, you know, across the board, we’re trying to make sure that, uh, we are, are as effective as, uh, as we can be particularly, uh, in these programs, we have other, uh, tools and resources that can, uh, hopefully help achieve some of the same results. For example, the global engagement center, uh, where we’re asking for some additional resources that has been very effective, for example, in, uh, rooting out some of the misinformation and disinformation, uh, to include, uh, things coming from, uh, from Cuba, uh, and from other, uh, antidemocratic, uh, sources. But, uh, we certainly, I welcome hearing from you, uh, from your office. Are there ways you think, uh, we can do this more, uh, more effectively, uh, we welcome hearing it.
And I look forward to work with you, and again, the $20 million democracy assistance program. That is a priority, right?
Blinken’s answer was inaudible on the tape, but I believe he said that yes, the democracy programs are a priority.