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Should the U.S. Lift Sanctions on Cuba?

Aired September 6, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, Cuban Leader Fidel Castro addresses the United Nations. Should he even be in the United States? And months after Elian Gonzalez's homecoming, have there been any improvements in U.S. Cuban relations?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California and Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart from Florida.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Fidel Castro today was back in New York City for the first time in five years, one of more than 150 world leaders attending the U.N.'s Millennium Summit. Not everybody was glad to see the communist dictator return to the Big Apple. Senator Jesse Helms had asked Secretary of State Albright to deny Fidel a visa.

Castro's host -- so to speak -- Mayor Rudy Giuliani called the Cuban a murderer. Protesters, some shouting into bullhorns and some beating drums crowded into Dag Hammaraskjold Plaza. The city's taxpayers had to pay to protect Fidel. And Senator Chuck Schumer asked the federal government to reimburse New Yorkers $10 million worth.

At the U.N., Castro, wearing his sincerest suit, instead of khakis and fatigues, wasn't able to harangue his fellow statesmen for anything close to his record four hours. He was given only five minutes, like the most obscure leader of the tiniest country. But he exceed it by two minutes. That was enough to demagogue against the United States without actually naming his arch enemy.


FIDEL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): It must be clearly affirmed that the principle of sovereignty cannot be sacrificed to an unfair order in which the hegemonic superpower, backed by its own power and strength attempts to have its say on everything that Cuba will never accept.


NOVAK: The big disappointment: Fidel didn't bring Elian along with him -- Bill. BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Because he had to go to school.

Congressman, good to have you here this evening.


PRESS: Fidel Castro certainly didn't get a very warm welcome from you. You wrote a letter to President Clinton asking him to deny him a visa, and if not, to arrest him on arrival. Now, Congressman, please, this guy is 74 years old. He's really a toothless tiger. He was one of 150 people -- world leaders there today. I mean, I know you have to keep the Cuban-Americans in Miami happy, but aren't you protesting a little too much?

DIAZ-BALART: It's not a matter of keeping anybody happy. It's a matter of the fact that he admitted that he ordered the murders. And he didn't have to admit it. It was obvious that the Air Force would not have shot down unarmed civilians over international waters if he had not ordered it. But he ordered it.

In a "Time" magazine -- he had admitted he had ordered it in a "Time" magazine after the murders. In addition to that, he admitted that he ordered the sinking of a vessel, the tug boat, where more than 40 people -- refugees -- drowned, including more than 20 children. You have a confessed murderer. So I think that if there's ever been a case where the treaty of the convention against torture has been violated -- where there is a criminal against humanity -- and who admits to his crimes often -- it's this instance.

So no, I don't think that it was a matter of making anyone happy. It's a matter of asking for justice.

PRESS: Well, you know, Fidel Castro has also called the economic sanctions against Cuba genocide. But we've seen Tiananmen Square and yet the president of China has been in the White House. I mean, and then -- you know, we agreed in 1947 to U.N. rules that said that the president of the United States must grant a visa to any world leader who comes here, unless it's a threat to our national security.

So are you asking -- are you asking the president and the U.N. -- and the U.S. then -- to violate our own word, to break the rules?

DIAZ-BALART: No. Clinton said the week before -- through the State Department -- that there's a law that says that when it is in the national interests, a visa can be denied. But as I said, and the alternative -- if you wanted to grant the visa, as he did -- certainly it's required for someone who commits crimes against humanity and then admits to them to be charged and tried.

PRESS: But again, the purpose of the U.N. is to bring world leaders together to discuss peace and world problems. I'll tell you what really bothered me. A couple weeks ago the United States refused to give the Dalai Lama a visa to come to the U.N., because China said they didn't want him there.

DIAZ-BALART: That's unfortunate. PRESS: I think that obscene. I think that was disgusting.

DIAZ-BALART: It was. I do...

PRESS: But isn't this the same thing?

DIAZ-BALART: No, no, wait a minute.

PRESS: Should the United States be in a position of denying visas to people just because we don't like them to come to the U.N.?

DIAZ-BALART: I would prefer that he be arrested. But in the alternative, I think that there is certainly power for President Clinton to deny the visa. But I would hope that you would focus on the issue of someone who admits to murder and whether that is something that as a civilized society, world international community, that we should accept.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Waters, he did get the visa. He did come to the U.N. He did speak today. And I want you to take a look at something he said in his little speech today.



CASTRO (through translator): Current underdevelopment and poverty have resulted from conquest colonization, slavery and plundering of most countries of this world by the colonial powers and from the emergence of imperialism. Today, it is their moral obligation to compensate our nations for the harm done to them.


NOVAK: That's a proposal. Now, I want to know -- please disappoint me -- disappoint me, Maxine, and tell me what you feel about this murderer, this drug dealer, this tyrant telling the democratic countries of the world that they have to compensate the Third World for colonial and imperial regimes which no longer exist?

WATERS: Well, first of all, I think both you and my colleague are extremists on this issue. All over the world, people are coming together to try and have peace. The United Nations is where we expect them to use their power to bring people together.

Whether we talk about what is going on, with Nelson Mandela trying to bring peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa, or whether we talk about the great work that our president is doing with the Middle East, trying to resolve those differences there -- all over the world. We are bending over backwards to have trade with China. We disregard the fact that they are communists, the fact that they violate human rights.

What is it that is so different about Castro, who is 90 miles off the shores of Miami...


WATERS: ... that would have us have a policy that would try and strangle them, that would try and arrest him...


WATERS: ... that would try and deny him a visa when in fact we reach all the way too China to say: Please let us trade with you?

NOVAK: But tell me -- tell me -- and please answer my question, Congresswoman...

WATERS: Yes. Sure.

NOVAK: Would you -- would you support Fidel Castro in saying that the democracy of the world should compensate Cuba?

WATERS: I support him in trying to make his case for becoming a part of the world family. That's what he's trying to do.

NOVAK: You didn't answer question.

WATERS: That's exactly what he's trying to do.

NOVAK: I'll move on. You may think your colleague, Congressman Diaz-Balart, is an extremist, you might think I'm an extremist. Surely, you don't think Rudolf Giuliani is an extremist?

WATERS: Oh, yes, I do.

NOVAK: Sorry. Wrong again.

But let's see what the mayor said the other day.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: ... Fidel Castro is a murderer, and that America should not fool itself into thinking that he's some kind of benign dictator.


NOVAK: Do you think he's a benign dictator?

WATERS: Well, let me tell you: Rudolf Giuliani is the same guy who could not step up and provide leadership when we had the terrible things that happen to Amadou Diallo and Louima, where they are really human rights violations. You know, African-American men being undermined.

NOVAK: What's that got to do with this?

WATERS: Well, I want to paint a picture when you asked me if I think he's extremist. This is a man not only could not provide leadership -- and made excuses for the police officers who undermined the civil rights of these African-American men -- one of whom was killed in a barrage of 41 bullets there -- so you want to know if I think he is extremist? Certainly I do. And I don't think he should be asked...

NOVAK: Let me try once more.

WATERS: Sure. Yes.

NOVAK: Surely you don't condone Fidel Castro's regime's participation in drug-dealing, which was -- has been substantiated by congressional investigators.

WATERS: No it has not been. No. As a matter of fact, what we need to do is stop bending over backwards in some of the other countries -- Colombia for example -- where we are giving the taxpayer's dollars to so-called stop them from bringing drugs into the United States while we wrap our arms around their military and allow them really to keep the flow of drugs coming in.

As a matter of fact, way more drugs are coming in from Mexico with NAFTA than Cuba. As a matter of fact, Fidel Castro in the Caribbean has the reputation for being the toughest on drug-dealers.


PRESS: Congressman, I want to ask you...

DIAZ-BALART: See, what's really incredible is that we don't focus on the issue of 41 years of dictatorship, where he denies the first, most important human right, which is the right of self- determination, from which all other human rights emanate, and jails, or exiles, or executes his opponents, admits to crimes. And yet we are still talking about excuses after -- excuse after excuse for his behavior.

PRESS: But let me agree with you that change is needed in Cuba.

DIAZ-BALART: Elections -- free elections.

PRESS: Change -- of course, including free elections, .

WATERS: Of course. We all support...


DIAZ-BALART: And then what do you support if you won't hold him after 41 years?

PRESS: Pardon me, Congressman, we ask the questions on this show.

So now let's talk about how to get there. For 37 years, you've been supporting a policy called "sanctions" that John F. Kennedy put into place. Yes, 37 years later, Fidel Castro's still there. He survived nine U.S. presidents. And only the United States and Israel observe the sanctions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said the sanctions last year cost us $250 billion in trade.

DIAZ-BALART: Baloney. That's baloney.

PRESS: Cost American farmers.

Isn't it time to recognize and admit that the sanctions aren't working?

DIAZ-BALART: What it's time to -- it's time to recognize that what we're calling for in our policy, which has been congressionally passed and supported on a bipartisan basis, is the liberation of all political prisoners; the legalization of political parties, labor unions and the press; and the scheduling of free elections. What's wrong with those three conditions?

WATERS: We support that.

DIAZ-BALART: Now -- oh, fine! You say you support it, fine! You say support it, fine! Now, when you have a regime...


When you have a -- when you have a regime -- when you have a regime -- when you have a regime that systematically denies that, and if someone, for example, calls for those steps in Cuba, he or she is arrested or exiled or executed...


DIAZ-BALART: ... then -- so the regime systematically denies those steps. So what you're saying is let's reward a regime that systematically denies those steps, a Democratic transition to its people, reward that regime...

PRESS: I've got...

DIAZ-BALART: ... reward that regime by lifting sanctions and giving credits and trade...

PRESS: I got the point.

DIAZ-BALART: ... and tourism, no, that is wrong.


PRESS: No, no, no. Pardon me. Pardon me.


Let me just -- we've heard -- we've heard that. In the interest of time, I've got to move on.


In the interest of time, sir...

DIAZ-BALART: Well, move on.

PRESS: ... please. OK. What you're saying is keep things in place. I just want to point out to you...


.... that many, many voices, including members of your party, are starting to see that you're talking nonsense. Let me quote to you one of your colleagues, conservative Republican Mark Sanford from South Carolina, went down there to Havana and just said recently to "The Atlanta Journal" -- and I quote him -- "I went down and got my eyes open. I thought, wow, this place is supposed to be near death, but it wasn't. I saw the beginnings of free enterprise. It began to eat at me that we had in place a policy that wasn't working."

Congressman, give it up.

DIAZ-BALART: No, no. We're going to stand -- we're going to stand with the Cuban people and their right to be free just like we've stood with other people who have had long-term dictatorships, and there have been democratic transitions.

What you don't do to stand with people's right to be free is to abandon them and to say because you've had a four-decade-old, we're going -- we're going to agree with the tyrant.

WATERS: No. You're right...

DIAZ-BALART: No, we're going to agree with their right to free elections...

WATERS: You're absolutely right, Bill Press. As a matter of fact...

DIAZ-BALART: And we're not -- we shouldn't throw in the towel and say we're going stand with the tyrant instead of the Cuban people.

PRESS: All right. Quick comment before we break.

WATERS: I want down and I took a trade show. Over 97 American firms were there. They were happy to be there. They want to do trade with Cuba.

DIAZ-BALART: They wanted to go to South Africa also.

WATERS: They were there.

DIAZ-BALART: They wanted to go to Nigeria.

WATERS: And they were surprised at what they saw. They see Castro moving toward...

DIAZ-BALART: You didn't support in other instances.

WATERS: ... capitalism.

DIAZ-BALART: What is Castro moving toward?

WATERS: And I want to tell you...

PRESS: All right. All right. We'll continue...

DIAZ-BALART: What is Castro moving toward?

WATERS: ... that his thinking is outdated. It's passe.


PRESS: We will talk after the break.

WATERS: Absolutely.

PRESS: We'll pick up right there and ask -- by the way, you want to get into this debate or you have lots of questions about (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you can check our Web site during the broadcast and after. And then meanwhile, when we come back, we'll ask the big question: Is Elian better off now that he's home in Cuba?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Fidel Castro will soon be going back to Cuba, but debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba is livelier than ever.

With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some Republicans in Congress now leading the charge for an end to U.S. sanctions against Cuba, is change in the air? We ask two members of Congress, Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart from Florida and Democrat Maxine Waters of California -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Waters, try to explain something to me if you could, please. You were so aggressive in demanding that President Clinton send in the U.S. Marines to force democracy in Haiti, where they've been having contested elections for the parliament anyway. But they don't have any free elections at all in Cuba, and you say that's OK. Why was it necessary to use U.S. force to get democracy in Haiti and you don't care about Cuba? Will you explain that?

WATERS: Well, it was much more complicated than you were describing. There were a lot of people's lives in danger in Haiti. You had really a rogue dictatorship there.

NOVAK: It's not a rogue dictatorship in Cuba?

WATERS: Well, let me tell you what I found in Cuba when I traveled there. I found Fidel Castro, who had done some things that I consider remarkable -- for example, training over 60,000 doctors to take care of the health care of his people because we had squeezed out any possibilities for them getting health care, for them getting medical supplies and equipment. He's trained doctors: Not only does he have them taking care of his people. They have exemplary health care.

NOVAK: Go ahead. Go ahead.

DIAZ-BALART: It is evident -- it is evident -- it is evident that...

WATERS: Let me just -- let me just...

NOVAK: Oh, go ahead.


WATERS: ... answering your question.

DIAZ-BALART: People like Maxine Waters do nothing but defend when you talk about Castro. They do nothing but defend the dictatorship.

The reality of the matter is that never once do you hear them criticize, for example, the political prisoners languishing in dungeons because they're asking for free elections.

NOVAK: About that, does that bother you?

WATERS: I criticize political prisoners everywhere.

NOVAK: I haven't heard you criticize them in Cuba.

WATERS: Well -- well, let me just say this...

DIAZ-BALART: When you meet with Castro, have you ever criticized the political prisoners?

WATERS: You're asking the question. I met with the dissidents in Cuba when I was there.

DIAZ-BALART: Have you ever asked for the liberation of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Roca...

WATERS: I asked...

PRESS: Let's see if we can have one at a time.

DIAZ-BALART: ... or any -- or any of the political prisoners (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WATERS: I met -- I met with the dissidents there, who described to me what they considered some human rights abuses. But guess what? Even the dissidents said you lift the embargo. That would do more for Cuba...

DIAZ-BALART: I wish that you could speak to the dissidents that I'm in contact with every day that you don't meet.

WATERS: Well...

DIAZ-BALART: You don't...


WATERS: ... these were dissidents.

NOVAK: Congresswoman...

DIAZ-BALART: They may have been the dissidents that Castro wanted you to meet.

NOVAK: Congresswoman...

WATERS: And I -- I don't want political prisoners (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anywhere...


NOVAK: Give me a chance...

PRESS: Members...

DIAZ-BALART: Have you visited any political prisoners in Cuba on your multiple visits there?

NOVAK: Let me get a chance to get in here. I want to quote you...


I want to quote you, not Lincoln Diaz-Balart and not Bob Novak...


I want to quote you...


NOVAK: ... the State Department report on religious freedom. Quote -- on Cuba.


NOVAK: "The government made active efforts to monitor and control religious institutions, including the surveillance, infiltration and harassment of clergy and church members." End quote.

I've never heard you criticize the regime for the harassment of religion in Cuba. How come?

WATERS: Well, I never heard that statement before. However, I did meet with a whole group of religious leaders that were organized to come here to the United States to talk with us about religious freedom in Cuba...


WATERS: No, it was not.

DIAZ-BALART: In a totalitarian...


... who would organize a trip, Maxine?

WATERS: The Council of Churches.

DIAZ-BALART: Oh, the National Council of Churches...

WATERS: In the United States.

DIAZ-BALART: Oh, an adjunct...

WATERS: A well-respected religious group.

NOVAK: Not respected by me.

DIAZ-BALART: Not respected by me.

WATERS: Oh, well, you don't like their religion? Something's wrong with their religion? Something's wrong...

DIAZ-BALART: They're working -- they work with totalitarian regimes.

WATERS: Oh, you don't like them because they're left.

DIAZ-BALART: They walk with -- no, not left. No, left no.

WATERS: Religion is not about whether or not you're left or right.

DIAZ-BALART: No, free elections -- free elections is not an issue of left or right.

WATERS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) should be supported no matter whether you are left or right.

DIAZ-BALART: Human rights is not an issue of left or right. I agree...

WATERS: Well, I'm speaking not to you, but I'm speaking to our host...

DIAZ-BALART: Well, I wish -- I wish that you would listen...

WATERS: Our host said to us -- our host said to us he did not like...

DIAZ-BALART: ... to the people who have been imprisoned.

PRESS: Please, time.


WATERS: He did not like the Council of Churches... PRESS: Time, if I may.

WATERS: ... because they're left. We shouldn't look at religion that way.

DIAZ-BALART: Free elections.

WATERS: We should support freedom of religion everywhere.

NOVAK: Religion shouldn't be ideological either.

PRESS: Let me -- quickly, please. Please, please.

WATERS: Yes, sir.

PRESS: Congressman Diaz-Balart, school is back in session, even in Cuba. We saw pictures this week of second grade in Cuba. For the first time he's not the sole center of attention; he's just there in a crowd, little Elian of 900 kids starting school. Wouldn't you have to admit that this little kid is better off now that he's with his father and that you made a big, big mistake in trying to keep him from his father because you've lost support of the American people and members of Congress?

DIAZ-BALART: When will you learn the value of freedom?

PRESS: When will you learn the value of parental rights and fatherhood?

DIAZ-BALART: The -- what we asked for, which was that experts, Bill...

PRESS: And family values?

DIAZ-BALART: ... that experts in a court of law, in a family court of law, should decide a matter. That's something that I'll never be ashamed of. On the contrary, I think that every child deserves, when there's a custody dispute, his case should be decided by a family court. It's sad that this administration for the first time in history, first time in history...

PRESS: And a family court judge said...

DIAZ-BALART: ... said this child shouldn't have his rights.

But you know something: One day, one day when Cuba's free and the concentration camps are open and the stories are heard, then we'll talk and then you'll have to admit that whitewashing and excusing all the crimes was a travesty. We will have to wait until then.

PRESS: I guess the answer's no. I guess the answer's no.

NOVAK: That's going to be the last word. Thank you very much, Congresswoman Waters. Thank you very much, Congressman Diaz-Balart. And Senor Press and I will be back with the closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, it fascinates me that liberals such as yourself are so worried, have always been so worried about democracy everywhere -- send in the Marines to Haiti, criticize President Fujimori because they don't think his election was on the up and up -- and there's no elections at all by Fidel, he persecutes the religious, it's a dictatorship, and you say it's OK. Why is that?

PRESS: Bob, you just don't get it. I am concerned about democracy.

NOVAK: Why don't you say something about it?

PRESS: I want to see democracy in Cuba. I've been saying it ever since I've been on the show. You don't listen!

NOVAK: I don't hear it.

PRESS: Here's what I'm saying. We should be exporting democracy to Cuba, we should be trading with Cuba, the same way we trade with Vietnam, the same way we trade with North Korea, the same way we trade with China. Bush is wrong, Gore is wrong, you are wrong. Lift the sanctions. That's it.

NOVAK: And I -- can I say something? I don't want to hurt your feelings, Bill...


But you're soft on Castro. You're soft on this murderer, this torcherer...

PRESS: Yes, Bob, you...

NOVAK: ... this drug dealer.

PRESS: You want a communist that you can hate, and he's the only one left.

From the left...

NOVAK: Thank goodness.

PRESS: ... I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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