Question from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Since December 2009, the Cuban government has been holding an American development worker, Alan Gross, hostage for helping the Jewish community in Cuba get uncensored internet access. The UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has held Gross's imprisonment to be arbitrary. The U.S. should pressure the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. However, the Cuban government should not be rewarded with any unilateral concessions for Gross's imprisonment - whether before or after Gross's release - for this will only endanger American lives in the future and encourage further hostage taking. If confirmed, would you commit not to reward the Cuban government for the arbitrary imprisonment of Americans?
Answer from U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) :
If confirmed, I will do everything in my power to protect the safety and security of American citizens around the globe, including in Cuba. Alan Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to under-served communities in over 50 countries. His incarceration is unjust and his release is a humanitarian issue. If confirmed, I will continue to use all appropriate diplomatic means to secure Mr. Gross’ release.
The Agency for International Development's democracy programs are pivotal to helping Cuba's civil society gain access to new technologies, basic support for the marginalized families of political prisoners, training for independent journalists, labor activists and other targeted groups. We have read reports regarding of previous efforts to halt the democracy programs, which are authorized by law. If confirmed, would you continue to support the Cuban democracy programs?
If confirmed, I will continue U.S. policies that promote democracy, freedom of expression and assembly, and human rights in Cuba. It is the Administration’s view that we should help those who work for positive change in Cuba, including human rights and pro-democracy activists, independent journalists, and broader civil society. The Cuban democracy programs are one element of the strategy to support these objectives. If confirmed, I will seek ways to increase the independence of the Cuban people so that they may freely determine their own future.
While State and Treasury have worked with me to streamline procedures to make sure people-to-people programs are truly benefiting the Cuban people, reports of trips being hosted by the government and meeting with the neighborhood watch committees (CDRs), continue to take place. The President's policy states that these programs were designed to foment the Cuban people's "independence" from the regime; but in fact, the itineraries are controlled by the regime on the island.
Would you work to uphold the Administration's original intent of these trips and ensure they are not being used for tourism purposes, which is against US law, or for the benefit of the Cuban government?
If confirmed, I will continue to support the Administration’s desire to increase purposeful travel; support private enterprise and civil society in Cuba; enhance free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from the Cuban state. In May 2012, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the “Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications to Engage in Travel-Related Transactions Involving Cuba” to require additional information from people-to-people license applicants, including information on how their proposed travel would enhance contact with the Cuban people and/or support civil society in Cuba and/or help promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities. The Administration continues to assess implementing procedures to ensure that benefits to Cuban civil society of U.S. travel outweigh any potential benefits to the Cuban government.
If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of State continues to work closely with the OFAC and refer to OFAC any potential violations of which the State Department becomes aware.