Sunday, April 08, 2007

Interview Transcript with the Chief of the Cuban Interests Section

Tampa Tribune

Published: Apr 7, 2007

Transcript of an interview with Cuban Interests Section Chief Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera:

Q. Do you also believe there could be small changes in easing travel restrictions to Cuba? Do you think it will be easier to pass something dedicated solely to easing travel for Cuban-American visits with their families? Or do you see changes afoot (in travel to Cuba) for all U.S. residents?

A. It's difficult to say. Personally I think one should push for changes for everyone, because we're talking about a constitutional right for Americans to travel freely. We know that the topic of families is highly sensitive and that there are a lot of people who are personally feeling its effects and want a change. We, of course, defend the right of the Cuban family to have normal communications. It's difficult to say. The bill that congressman (Charlie) Rangel has to allow travel for all Americans of any category has at this moment about 80 co-sponsors. That's a high level of support. Our wish, of course, would be for that to pass – if not as an independent bill then at least as an amendment onto another important bill that would make it difficult for the president to veto.

Q. President Bush continues to speak of his veto power of any bill that would ease policies to Cuba. What do you think of these proclamations?

A. I think they truly, vehemently oppose any change in policy. This administration has shown that when it comes to the subject of Cuba, particularly the president has been very ideological, very rigid. On most every subject he's a very fundamentalist president, so I don't see any reason for him to change. I think that his veto threat shows how dependent the Cuba issue is on the Miami groups to whom Bush is very grateful – because they were the groups that allowed him to win the 2000 election, most of all during the recount that the Cubans blocked. During the recount and also because of the money they send – both the party and the president has received contributions from these ultra-right extremist groups from Miami. So the level of commitment and dependence on these groups is big and the veto threats are directly related to that relationship.

Q. When you speak of the Miami interests, do you believe that with respect to the Cuban-American population as a whole that they are a majority or a minority? In what sense is the entire Cuban-American population as a whole in agreement with these interests that are influencing the president?

A. Karen, look, definitely there have been important changes inside Miami's Cuban-American community. Changes that have been impacted by Cuban immigration to the United States. Changes that are impacted by generational changes. Changes that have been impacted by the reasons for this immigration. Cuban immigration to the United States – to south Florida – since 1980 has been fundamentally due to economic interests. It's an economic immigration. Basically that's the difference between the immigration that arrived here in the 60s. And now, the immigrants who arrived after 1980 together with the Cubans who were born here in the United States make up a majority of this community. And what that majority needs is to have more normal communication with its family based on a different policy. It's criminal to block any person who has their mother, their father or a sibling in need or ailing, and to block them from freely communicating so that they can help that family member – and that's what the current policy does. That's the policy that most of the community opposes. But I'd say that a majority up until now hasn't had a voice inside of Miami. Why? Because in Miami, the city, the media, the politics and the economy have been controlled by that small but powerful minority. It's been that way for years. Those in charge not only block positive changes but they try to hurt the situation more between the two countries, because, for them, it's highly beneficial to do so. For them, keeping this policy is highly, extremely productive. For example, for this fiscal year that begins in October, how much money is the administration requesting for Cuba issues? It's asking Congress for $45 million to develop so-called democracy reform in Cuba, but we all know that's part of the political game. Most of that money goes to certain groups in Miami close to the administration that will enrich themselves with that money and also perhaps return some of that money in form of political contributions to the president and the Republican Party. They're spending almost $39 million for Radio and TV Marti, a station that can't even be seen in Cuba. But simply, that helps keep that political support base happy. It's a business. It's a big industry.

Q. Do you think that efforts to ease agricultural sales and travel would have a greater chance of success if there were more co-sponsors from Florida? I don't see any now on the bills. Is that correct?

A. Up until now, you're absolutely right, there are none. And of course that would help these bills a lot if some of the lawmakers from the Florida delegation would support them. And in my personal and private opinion, I'm sure that many of them believe it's just and human to allow families to reunite and to help each other. Nevertheless, it's precisely because of the influence of the South Florida groups – for their power and money – and the influence of those lawmakers, I'm sure they have to hold back their public position for fear of retaliation from those groups.

Q. Do you have any other opinions you'd like to share with me?

A. Yes. One final thought, Karen. And it's that there is no reason to keep a policy that uses food and uses medicine as political weapons against a people. There's no reason to keep U.S. churches, U.S. artists, academics and Cuban Americans separated from their Cuban counterparts, simply because it's the wish of small groups – influential but small – in South Florida that do not represent U.S. national interests and many of which have been involved in terrorist acts against Cuba. And this doesn't come from us, it's not information that comes from Cuba. It's precisely from declassified FBI documents. It's that minority – powerful but an aggressive, extremist and terrorist minority – that has blocked a more constructive relationship between our countries. That's what I'd like to say to you.

Q. Have you had any contacts here?… There's a large Cuban population in Tampa. Have you had contact with people here who have different opinions on the policy toward Cuba?

A. Of course. In the Tampa area, I know dozens of people, of Cuban Americans who think differently than these small groups. Even in Miami, we know hundreds and hundreds of Cubans that have different positions. We know hundreds of Cubans in the rest of the United States – in New Jersey, New York, California, New Mexico, Illinois in all the states, really – that have a different view toward Cuba and the Cuban government. They simply want normal relations between Cuba and the United States that will allow them to exercise their human right to connect with and support their families.

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