“We can act creatively with respect to Cuba.” Interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Yoani Sanchez
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the interview with Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez, Washington | May 27, 2014

The debate about relations between Cuba and the United States has heated up following the publication of a letter signed by 40 American personalities asking President Barack Obama for flexibility toward the Island. The proposal has unleashed passions and speculation, also fueled by the imminent arrival in Havana of representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Cuban society, however, seems to remain out of the headlines, the hot articles, the replies — or support — like the so-called “letter of the 40” already circulating on the networks and in emails. Thinking about this uninformed population submerged in the big problems of everyday life, I did this interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who received me in Washington a few weeks before the launch of 14ymedio.

Question. The Cuban government has recently passed a new foreign direct investment law that has been met with both critics as well as a certain level of expectation. Will the promotion of this law change anything in U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba, specifically in regard to the ability of U.S. Citizens to invest in the Island?

Answer. U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba is guided by the commitment to support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their own future, supporting U.S. interests and promoting universal values.

Since President [Barack] Obama took office, we have shown that we are willing to promote pragmatic changes in our Cuba policies based on our interests and those of the Cuban people. Our policies with regards to travel, remittances and personal contacts are reducing the gap between divided Cuban families and promoting the free flow of information and humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people. These measures help to put resources in the hands of the Cuban people and help promote, in the words of the President, “spaces of freedom” in Cuba.

We note the Cuban government has made changes in its investment laws, and we expect that these efforts to attract foreign investment in Cuba to be accompanied by an expansion of the rights and freedoms so the Cuban people can develop their full potential.

    “We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity in Cuba”

Q. Although Cubans are able of circumventing censorship and the high price of Internet access, we still don’t have access to a number of websites and services because of current U.S. law. This includes access to online stores for Android or iOS apps and selected Google services. Is there any possibility of reducing these restrictions in the near future?

A. We will continue looking for practical ways to support greater connectivity and to help remove the obstacles that stand in the way of open communication and freedom of expression. In 2010, the United States eased restrictions and allowed for greater access in Cuba to free services that help connect to the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email. Earlier, in 2009, we changed our policies so that U.S. citizens could donate cell phones and other electronics to the people of Cuba. We also encourage U.S. companies to provide services and fiber optic and satellite communication services to Cuba, as we began talks with the Cuban government to establish direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. We want Cuban citizens to be more easily able to communicate with each other and with the outside world.

In 2009, in an interview with President Obama, I asked about a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba . His answer was a categorical “no.” However, Cuban leaders don’t stop talking about an imminent U.S. plan to overthrow the government in Havana. Beyond the official U.S. position, I would like to hear a simple answer to give to my son. What do I say when he asks me? Should we be concerned ?

A. I can give you the simplest of answers, and the answer is no. As President Obama said.

We support the development of a prosperous, secure and democratic Cuba and continue to support the brave Cubans who seek to exercise their freedoms. Our position is firm: only Cubans can or should determine the future of Cuba. These accusations are a relic of a distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cuban to divert their attention from the problems closer to home. The Cuban people deserve more honesty from their government.

    “To promote a change so that Cubans can enjoy a normal life”

Q. In recent months, your government has repeatedly used the term “creative” to describe the direction of U.S. Policy with respect to Cuba. I’m intrigued by this word: could you be more explicit?

A. President Obama has stated that he was not yet born when the United States declared a trade embargo against Cuba. Our goal is to promote positive change on the Island for Cubans to enjoy normal, productive lives in their own country, to have the freedom to express their views and the benefits of an inclusive and democratic political system. We have seen positive movement in some areas, such as increasing the ability of Cubans to travel abroad, but we remain deeply concerned about the continued detention and mistreatment of Cubans for exercising freedoms that are protected in other parts of the Americas.

The question is how we can act creatively to promote positive trends and show our support to the Cuban people while pressing to improve the conditions of human rights. Our opinion is that the President’s measures to facilitate family travel, personal contacts, communications, remittances and humanitarian donations have had a positive impact and contributed to the welfare of Cubans. Similarly, our work with the Cuban government on matters of mutual interest has benefited the citizens of both countries. We established these policy changes while defending our values and promoting democratic reforms in Cuba.

Finally, I want to emphasize that the detention of Alan Gross in Cuba is an important obstacle to improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba. We can be as creative as we want with our policy, but Alan’s case continues to be at the top of the list of issues to be resolved. He should be released on humanitarian grounds.