Marco Rubio Presses Antony Blinken on Cuba, China and Venezuela

During a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee nominations hearing this week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., questioned Antony Blinken, President Joseph Biden’s nominee to serve as the next U.S. Secretary of State.

The transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks is below.

Rubio: Thank you, Mr. Blinken, for being here. Thanks for your willingness to step back in and serve our country. We should appreciate that for anyone who’s willing to step up and do it. Obviously, everyone is asking about all the different parts of the world they care about a lot about. So I’m going to focus, if I can, on the Western Hemisphere for a moment on two specific things. The first is, as you’re well aware, in Cuba, there is a very small but not real large or substantial small private businesses. The bulk of the economic activity in that country is controlled by a holding company named GAESA, which controls basically anything that makes money. And any time they figure out something might make money, they pull it into that. GAESA is controlled by the Cuban military and military officials. The current administration, the Trump administration, put in place a policy that prohibits financial transactions with any of those companies that are controlled by that holding company owned by the Cuban military.

And so theoretically, if the Cuban government would allow it, an independent Cuban can open up a restaurant or a hotel or business and interact and have transactions. But, not a company controlled by the Cuban military as identified and through that holding company. Is that a policy that you would recommend to the Biden administration that we keep or not?

Blinken: Senator, I would propose to review that very very quickly. In terms of the objectives that you cite, that makes very, very good sense to me. I think the question is, and I don’t know enough to form a full judgment as to whether it is, in fact, achieving those objectives. And are there any other costs or consequences that we might want to look at. But certainly, the objective strikes me is exactly the right one.

I’d welcome an opportunity if confirmed, actually talk to you about that.

And by the way, about our approach to Cuba more broadly.

Rubio: As a matter of theory, because obviously of the Cuban government control, we can open up whatever we want to them. But the Cuban government controls what they allow and what they don’t allow.

So as an example: if a Cuban decided to borrow money from a relative in the United States and open up a business, they could do so under existing law. Potentially depending on how the transaction was structured. But the Cuban government wouldn’t allow it. In fact, they’ve cracked down on that. So I think we could agree, could we not, that to the extent that it involves economic independence for Cubans or companies that they’re allowed to start, that’s one thing. But when it comes to these entities that are not state controlled entities, they’re all oligarchs that control it. Basically one individual, largely because they want to be not just a politically totalitarian state, but also an economic totalitarian state, that it would further the national interest of the United States to encourage more economic independence for the individual and less dependent on the state that gives them all this leverage over them.

So I do sincerely hope that just because these were Trump policies-and I’m not claiming that that’s what you’re saying-that we don’t just throw the whole thing out and say, let’s go back into the Obama policy that even some of the architects of it have since conceded could have been structured a little differently because they were unilateral and didn’t lead to some of the results we thought. I do think, as you carefully review many of the steps that have been taken, there is a logic and a rationale behind each of them that I hope you will be taken into account. I think it serves our national interest to do so.

On Venezuela, I’m sure you’re well aware that Maduro has repeatedly, over the course of the last five to seven years, utilized negotiations as a delay tactic. It’s so egregious that even the Vatican says we’re not having any more negotiations. In fact, in a very strongly worded letter from the Pope to him said, “You remember the last time we met,” I’m paraphrasing. “Remember the last time we met? You agreed to things you never did, any of them. There’s no purpose in meeting any more.” Effort after effort to negotiate with Maduro’s regime, for whatever, have all resulted in nothing. He uses it to buy time and to delay, and he uses it to divide the opposition and unfortunately multiple players have fallen into that trap. The reality of it is that he will agree to all sorts of short term reversible things, you know, release a political prisoner, what have you. But at the end of the day, Maduro is not ever going to agree to free and fair elections because he can’t win them. Is it your view that our stance towards Venezuela should change, in essence, that we should no longer recognize Juan Guido and enter into negotiations with Maduro?

Blinken: No, it is not. I very much agree with you, Senator. First of all, with regard to a number of the steps that were taken toward Venezuela in recent years, including recognizing Mr. Guaidó, recognizing the National Assembly as the only democratically elected institution in Venezuela, seeking to increase pressure on the regime led by a brutal dictator in Maduro, as well as to try to work with some of our allies and partners. The hard part is that for all of those efforts, which I support, we obviously have not got the results that we need.

And one of the things I would really welcome doing, if confirmed, is to come and talk some of that with you and with others on this committee, because we need an effective policy that can restore Venezuela to democracy, starting with free and fair elections, and how can we best advance that ball. I think there’s some things that we can look at, particularly better, stronger coordination, cooperation with like-minded countries. Maybe we need to look at how we more effectively target the sanctions that we have so that regime enablers really feel the pain of those sanctions. And certainly I believe there’s more that we need to try to do in terms of humanitarian assistance, given the tremendous suffering of the Venezuelan people, as well as helping some of the neighboring countries that have borne the brunt of refugees from Venezuela. But I’d welcome an opportunity, if confirmed, to talk to you about that.

Rubio: And I would just encourage that every time we talk about issues like Venezuela, that it’s important we point to the direct national interest of the United States in the matter. I think sometimes people start to get the imagery that this is about nation building or picking sides in an internal dispute. The reason why the U.S. cares about [this issue], we care about democracy, we care a lot about human rights, but there is a direct national interest of the United States involved.

You have a regime that openly houses and gives safe harbor to multiple terrorist organizations like the FARC and the ELN, that traffic drugs that in turn threaten to destabilize and even potentially topple at some point or seriously threaten the government of Colombia, which would be a massive blow to regional stability and ultimately impacts us as well.

It’s already having a migratory pressure on this country, but on countries in the region and Peru and Brazil and Colombia, which ultimately also impacts us. They have very friendly relations, military and otherwise, with the Russians and increased evidence of Iranian interest and activity, including the sale of oil or gasoline in exchange for gold that they’re stealing from their reserves. So I just encourage you to constantly point to the fact that this is not just a “do-gooder” effort here. There is a direct national security interest to the United States involved in what happens there.

You may have been asked this already, but I think it’s important. Would you acknowledge, as I think a growing number of people have, that there was once here a bipartisan consensus on China that once they got rich and they got prosperous, they would become more like us, [and] that that consensus was flawed?

Blinken: Yes. I think we’ve found that out in practice. Yes, I think there was a broad consensus that economic liberalization in China would lead to political liberalization. That has not happened.

Rubio: Beyond the political liberalization, their intent goes deeper. It goes to a dangerous imbalance that’s now developed in a relationship on a commercial front and a geopolitical front and, increasingly, potentially on the military front. You’ve seen a massive expansion of a military capability, both technological and, particularly, in the asymmetric abilities that they have that really have no precedent. And it is now clear that they are making the argument to the world—and unfortunately, we, domestically, have helped to make this argument— that American style democracy is too chaotic and that what we have here, them, the Communist Party of China is much more stable and a much better model to follow.

The bottom line is—and I know that you know, people like to throw around the phrases like Cold War, I think this is very different than the Cold War— but do you have any doubt in your mind that the goal of the Chinese Communist Party is to be the World’s predominant political, geopolitical, military and economic power, and for the United States to decline in relation?

Blinken: I do not.

Rubio: You have no doubt?

Blinken: I have no doubt.

Rubio: Okay, thank you Mr. Chairman.

 

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