U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told an audience at Harvard University on Monday night that Cuba will soon return to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy because of an inevitable change in its aging leadership.
Gutierrez described Cuba as a country devastated by two recent hurricanes while grappling with an economic system that breeds corruption , a population growing increasingly defiant, and a president “who will have a hard time keeping it together.”
Gutierrez reiterated the longstanding U.S. policy regarding economic sanctions against Cuba.
“We don’t want to give them a lot of breathing room at a time where we believe change will happen,” he said during a question session that followed his talk at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
He also depicted an obstinate government that continues to decline U.S. relief offers in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike that he said have destroyed 400,000 homes.
Gutierrez, whose own family left Cuba in 1960 when he was 6 years old, said that the past 50 years have included “one of the greatest social disasters of our time” but that no change will occur while Fidel Castro, 82, is still alive.
January will mark the 50th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s assumption of power in Cuba. In August 2006, he handed power over to his brother, Raul Castro, 77, after suffering health problems.
Gutierrez criticized the idea that Raul Castro has been a reformer. He said recent changes aren’t improving the lives of most Cubans.
Gutierrez fielded questions and challenges from the audience about the continuing U.S. embargo and travel ban.
He said the embargo “has denied a sworn enemy of our country more resources that he can use against us.”
Asked why the U.S. continues to do business with countries that aid Cuba, he acknowledged that foreign policy is complicated by the need to deal with states that have “oligarchic systems” but “are our customers and would like to buy from us” or sell goods such as oil to the U.S. He cited Venezuela as an example.