Nov 16, 2021
Senate GOP Cuba Protests Press Conference Transcript November 16
Senate Republicans held a press conference on September 16, 2021 to address protests against the Cuban government. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Maria Salazar: (00:14)
Hey, good morning to my colleagues in the press.
Kay Granger: (00:24)
Yeah. Move up here. Don’t make me-
Maria Salazar: (00:25)
I need Carlos and Mario next to me because we are the Cubans. Right here.
Mario Diaz-Balart: (00:29)
It’s Tuesday November now.
Carlos Gimenez: (00:32)
Oh, yeah, I didn’t get the memo?
Mario Diaz-Balart: (00:32)
Yeah, no. I know. That was my fault, that was my fault. It was all my fault.
Carlos Gimenez: (00:36)
Stand by Mario, don’t let Mario stand in front of you.
Maria Salazar: (00:38)
So good morning to all of you and good morning to my fellow colleagues in the press. A few remarks, I thank all the members of Congress, the Senators who are here with us, and I have asked Carlos Gimenez and Mario Diaz-Balart to be next to me because the words that I’m going to be speaking, echo what they’re feeling. And then I’m going to give the opportunity to the Senators and the rest of the members of Congress to speak to you or give you some sound bites.
Maria Salazar: (01:07)
As you know, I’m Maria Salazar. I’m the representative of District number 27 in south Florida, the heart of the Cuban exile community in the United States, the city of Miami. And as I stand here today, the Cuban people are crying for freedom. Yesterday as you know, the whole world watched as hundreds of Cuban dissidents were silenced by the regime. A few weeks ago, Cuba, brave freedom fighters planned to go back to the streets and shout libertad, or liberty once again.
Maria Salazar: (01:35)
They encounter threats, kidnappings, and abuse. And yesterday, when their time came they were muzzled once again. Yunior Garcia, for example, the brave leader of this movement has been under siege in his own home for days. They have covered his windows with enormous flags to cloak him in darkness and force him back into submission. For six decades, 62 years, this murderous regime has put a strangle hold on the Cuban people. But now the Cubans are saying enough. That’s why every opposition leader right now is under house arrest and dozens and dozens of teenagers who dared on July 11th to demand liberty on the streets of Havana are condemned to rot in a Cuban prison just for screaming liberty. That’s why the repressive apparatus shuts down internet access every time so the world won’t see what they’re doing to their own people.
Maria Salazar: (02:35)
For months, the Cuban people have done their part now we, the United States, we must do ours. This country is the shining light of democracy in a sea of darkness that engulfs the Cubans for 60 years. But when they took to the streets in July, as I said, the Biden administration was all talk and no action. As the Congresswoman of the city of Miami, as I said, the heart of the Cuban exile community, the city of Miami, I am asking the White House once again, once again, one thing and only one thing, turn on the internet. Put your money where your mouth is. The technology we know is out there. Do the due diligence. Let’s send a clear message to the Cubans that they are not alone.
Maria Salazar: (03:21)
And its not only Cuba. It’s Venezuela. It’s Nicaragua. It’s Afghanistan. We’re sending the wrong message to dictators around the world that we, the United States, the beacon of hope is missing in action. I call once again on this administration to work with the technology companies to provide internet to Cuba. There are no excuses. Cuba will be free soon. We know that. The Castro’s days are numbered and they know it. The regime knows that their days are numbered. The Cuban people are on the right side of history. The United States needs to be with them. Now it’s up to the Biden administration to do so. Thank you, now some remarks in espanol.
Maria Salazar: (04:04)
Maria Salazar: (04:04)
Thank you. Now I’m going to let Senator Rubio, pleased to mention a few words. Thank you.
Senator Rubio: (05:14)
Thank you all for covering this today. Thank you Congresswoman Salazar for calling this and all of you for being here today. I think what’s most interesting, this is a movement inside Cuba that’s led by young intellectuals, artists, these are not people that were political activists. It’s a very young generation who’s demanding a better life and the entire power of the regime, the military, the party apparatus, the government, everything, the entire power of that regime was unleashed to prevent people from walking in the street and shouting slogans. To think about that for a moment. They unwittingly and so doing did two things. The first is they created a powerful new symbol of resistance. I think this only adds to the movement. They actually gave for a week and a half, free publicity to artists and intellectuals that may not have been widely known throughout the island, as leaders of this movement, that now are well known within the island.
Senator Rubio: (06:03)
The second thing is they revealed who they really are. I for the life of me, don’t understand how any of these countries that continue to defend Cuba in international forums can do so, but in the way they reacted towards this, from the mobs that they unleashed on people’s homes, the flags covering windows, they reveal who they are. They prove those protesting against them correct. And so I hope this administration will use the power and the influence of this government that we have, at every international forum, to ask countries around the world how can you continue to align with this? How can you continue to support and defend this regime, this government, and these actions? Now it’s already been mentioned about the internet. Look, the technology to do it exists. It’s not easy, but it can be done, especially in key moments in which we know the Internet’s going to be shut down.
Senator Rubio: (06:45)
It’s a matter of will and desire. And I don’t expect a lot, frankly, when the person in charge of the Cuba portfolio in the State Department just a year and a half ago, was organizing trips for members of Congress to meet with the regime. I don’t expect a lot when people at the National Security Council who are involved in the Cuba portfolio are people who are deeply involved in negotiating a failed deal with the regime. Fact of the matter is the people in charge of this on an hourly basis in this administration are not on the side of what we’re asking for. What they want is an understanding and an agreement with this evil regime. So I’m not expecting a lot unless the President himself makes it a priority, which so far he has not.
Senator Rubio: (07:23)
Senator Rubio: (09:01)
And now let me recognize my colleague, Senator Scott.
Senator Scott: (09:07)
All right, thanks everybody for being here today. So here’s what we’ve got. We’ve got the Cuban people standing up. What should be happening is the United States should be their partner and stand up for freedom of democracy. The international community should show up. I mean they like democracy in Europe. Why don’t they support democracy in Cuba? Why don’t they care about the Cuban people? The point should be that we all stand together for democracy and freedom for the Cuban people. So what we’ve got now is the regime of Díaz-Canel and Castro, they’re kidnapping activists, leaders from UNPACU, San Isidro Movement, Ladies in White, they’re attacking and killing peaceful protestors. We should be talking about this every day. It should be on television every day. If we had a President that cared about this, it would be on television. We all would know about it. Every American would know about it.
Senator Scott: (09:50)
We’ve got 1200 Cubans that been unjustly arrested by the illegitimate Castro regime. This has to stop. Marco Rubio and I have introduced two bills, DEMOCRACIA Act, which is going to implement severe sanctions about anybody that’s helping the Castro regime and the PATRIA Y VIDA Act to ensure those fighting for freedom and democracy have internet access. They can do it. The State Department told me that they could do it and they would work on it back in July. They have done absolutely nothing. In contrast, I have three things that the Biden administration should do. One denounce the unlawful detentions of peaceful protestors in Cuba today. Show up, do your job. The White House has the biggest pulpit in this country, in the world. Do something with it. Shut down the illegitimate Cuban Embassy. Why do we have a Cuban Embassy right here in Washington, DC? It doesn’t belong here. And third, we have the technology. Do your job. Get the internet back on.
Senator Scott: (10:45)
This should happen. We have to stand with the Cuban people. We have to stand with Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua. Why wouldn’t we?
Senator Scott: (10:56)
Senator Scott: (11:16)
Now I’m going to introduce, Mario. So when I got elected back in 2010, Mario is one of the individuals along with his brother and Eliana that was unbelievable support in why we did well with the Cuban vote. I want to thank Mario for what he’s done and what he does to fight for freedom every day.
Mario Diaz-Balart: (11:31)
Thank you Senator. Thank you. Good morning. Let me first, by the way, start by… Well, Maria, thank you for bringing us together.
Maria Salazar: (11:38)
Mario Diaz-Balart: (11:38)
And, but let me start by thanking all the members of the press.
Maria Salazar: (11:41)
Mario Diaz-Balart: (11:41)
There’s been a change by the way. You know, all the reports before, before the Cubans hit the street were about quaint cars and very few reports about human rights violations, about political prisoners. But I want to thank the members of the press because that’s starting to change. The reality of the Orwellian situation that the Cuban are experiencing is starting to be reported by the press, the United States, and by the press internationally. And so I’m grateful for all of you who are here today and the members of the press.
Mario Diaz-Balart: (12:11)
I don’t want to repeat what’s already been said. This administration, this president, could immediately, if he wants to have a situation where the Cuban people can communicate among themselves via a type of internet. The private sector can do it with the help of the administration and the administration, the government, the US government could do it unilaterally, immediately. All that is required is for the President of the United States to say, let’s do it. And yet he has refused to even do that. Number two, you’ve heard, you know, it’s about time that the United States, that President Biden, use the full force of the diplomatic force of the United States to start shaming and pressuring countries that are helping the regime, while that regime is imprisoning and murdering people as we speak, for the simple fact that they want freedom. And they’re asking for their freedom.
Mario Diaz-Balart: (13:08)
Lastly, not only is president Biden missing in action, but look at what he’s actually done. If you look at deeds, not words, in this moment please keep in mind that in this moment, the democratic leadership in Congress and the President both are pushing to reduce funding for broadcasting into Cuba. So no efforts to help the Cubans communicate, and then trying to cut the funds for broadcasting into Cuba. That is the shameful record of this President and this administration. So we are respectfully, but aggressively asking this President to stand on the right side of history, to stand on principle, that principle of freedom and stand with the Cuban people. Something that as of now he’s refused to do.
Mario Diaz-Balart: (14:03)
Mario Diaz-Balart: (16:08)
Let me now introduce a person who, by the way, back home needs no introduction. He’s been a leader in our community. He’s been a leader on the freedom issue, even though he was a local official. And now he’s brought his leadership here and he’s a dear friend, a person that I rely on immensely, and that is Congressman Carlos Gimenez.
Carlos Gimenez: (16:29)
Thank you, Mario. Thank you, Mario. And again, thank the Senator Maria for putting this together.
Maria Salazar: (16:36)
Carlos Gimenez: (16:36)
The Senators for being here and also all my colleagues in Congress. Today we stand here in strong support of the freedom fighters in Cuba and against communism. The very system of social, political, and economic oppression has brought misery, poverty, and death to the Cuban people. Communism, indeed does make everybody equal. It makes them equally miserable. As the struggle of the Cuban people continues, I let several of my colleagues, many standing here with me today and demanding Secretary Blinken take decisive measures in support of the Cuban protestors. The time for round table discussions and empty words are over. It’s time for President Biden and Secretary Blinken to grow a spine and keep their commitment to freedom and democracy.
Carlos Gimenez: (17:19)
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, here’s how you can do it. Condemn the communist Cuban regime for their decades of oppression. Condemn the communist Cuban regime for any acts of violence against protesters, which we’ve already seen. Condemn the evils of communism that has led to the misery, the poverty, the stifled basic and fundamental human rights, support the mission of the protestors in Cuba which includes establishing free and democratic elections, release of all political prisoners, and the establishment of a free and independent press. Commit the United States to continuing the policy of maximum pressure and applying more pressure to the communist, illegitimate Cuban regime until fundamental democratic reforms take hold. Establish by any means necessary internet connection and technology. And as my colleagues have previously stated, that’s a vital importance for the Cuban people to be able to communicate with themselves and just as important for them to be able to communicate with the outside world what’s actually happening in Cuba.
Carlos Gimenez: (18:23)
Their daily lives, the oppression of the Cuban people by their own government. On a personal note, I immigrated to this country with my family when I was a young boy, just six years old. I lived through the indoctrination curriculum in elementary school. I witnessed my birth country crumble to the woes of communism. Luckily my family and I had the opportunity to immigrate to this great country. In just one generation my family went from Cuba to Congress. I believe with all my heart and soul that in no other country in the world, is that achievement possible. For that reason, I will always stand firmly on the side of those who yearn for freedom and democracy.
Carlos Gimenez: (19:04)
It’s time for Biden and Blinken to be on the side of those who yearn for freedom too. And I ask for them, please, please support the freedom fighters in Cuba and urge their unwavering support of freedom and democracy, not only in Cuba but in Venezuela, in Nicaragua, and all parts of the world, especially in our own hemisphere. And to the Cuban people, our message is we stand with you. We will always stand with you and we won’t give up until one day we see a free Cuba. Patria y Vida. Thank you. And now I want to… Okay, I want to introduce the House Minority Whip, Steve Scalise.
Maria Salazar: (19:48)
And thank you.
Steve Scalise: (19:53)
Thank you. It’s an honor to be here today standing with my colleagues, especially those who in the case of Carlos Gimenez, fled Cuba himself, Mario Diaz-Balart, Maria Elvira Salazar, whose families that directly experienced the oppression of socialism in Cuba. And we stand with those people in Cuba who yearn for freedom. One of the great hallmarks of America is that we don’t only hold our pride and freedom to ourselves. We share it with the world. We share it with people anywhere around the world, whether they’re living in a free nation today, or whether they’re living under oppression and socialism, and they want freedom. That statue of freedom that stands right behind us is a beacon of hope for everyone around the world who believes in freedom and in many nations like Cuba, that freedom’s being denied. And when they seek it in the streets, we need to be there with them.
Steve Scalise: (20:54)
They speak firsthand about what they’ve seen from the oppression and the ills of socialism. It’s about government control. It’s about government taking away the freedoms of individuals and having to rely on the government. One of the dangers we see right here this week, is there is a march towards socialism by the Biden agenda, by what Speaker Pelosi’s bringing on the floor, and we reject that too. We’re calling on President Biden to stand with people who are seeking freedom all around the world. Let’s make sure here we don’t let America become a socialist nation as they contemplate trillions of dollars in new spending on more socialist style programs. Big government socialism has failed everywhere. Everywhere it’s been tried. We cannot let it come to this great nation. We are proud to stand with the people of Cuba, all of those who seek freedom in Cuba, and all around the world. Thank you for putting this together.
Maria Salazar: (21:54)
Thank you leader Scalise for being with us and now I want to acknowledge Representative Michael Waltz.
Michael Waltz: (22:03)
I’ll be brief. Thank you so much. Look, here’s the bottom line. Communism kills. Communism has killed more people throughout world history than any other ideology in world history. Communism is killing today in China. It’s killing today in Russia. It’s killing today in Venezuela. It’s killing today in Nicaragua. It’s killing today in Cuba. It kills. So we see all of those countries now lining up behind this regime, these murderous dictatorships. President Biden says America’s back, says he wants to lead with diplomacy. Where is his diplomacy? Where is his leadership in the Organization of American States? Where is his leadership in the United Nations? Where is his leadership in the western hemisphere? Is he even planning to make a visit to south or central America anytime soon?
Michael Waltz: (23:03)
Heck, I’ll take one to just Miami. How about that? Look, come down to Florida, come down and face the Cuban-American population, hear their stories, hear from their representatives, and at the end of the day, action has consequences. Well, when you’re President of the United States inaction has even bigger consequences and President Biden’s inaction, when it comes to this oppressive regime, is killing people, is allowing them to be imprisoned, to be silenced, and to be killed and that blood is on his hands and we will hold him accountable for it. Thank you and I yield to Ms. Granger.
Maria Salazar: (23:48)
Yeah, that’s right. Thank you.
Kay Granger: (23:49)
It’s really an honor to be here in solidarity with the courageous people of Cuba. As a member of Leader McCarthy’s Cuba Advisory Team, I’ve been closely following events at this island. Yesterday Cubans took the streets to demand a better life. They demanded an end to tyranny and repression from the communist party at the people’s expense. They demanded freedom. Their actions were peaceful, but the government’s response was not. Instead of being heard by the regime, they were suppressed, and detained. Sadly, it’s not the first or the last time we will be witnessing this suppression. While the Cuban people demonstrate in historic numbers against communist tyranny and corruption, we in the United States must stand behind them.
Kay Granger: (24:39)
As ranking member of the Appropriations Committee I’ve supported critical programs to encourage democracy in Cuba and ensure Cubans have access to the unbiased objective news and information. The programs must be successfully and sufficiently funded. They must also be part of a comprehensive, maximum pressure campaign to encourage the regime to transition to democracy. The American support is important but we must be clear. It’s a Cuban people themselves who are leading this fight. As long as they have hope for a better future for Cuba, my colleagues and I stand ready to help them make it a reality and thank you.
Maria Salazar: (25:22)
Thank you, congresswoman. Thank you for being here with us and now I would like to acknowledge Congressman Lee Zeldin from the state of New York.
Lee Zeldin: (25:31)
Thank you, Lee Zeldin from the first congressional district of New York. I view this not as a Cuban issue. This is just as much an American issue, and we might not be aligned with the Castro regime. Far from it, but we can strengthen our alliance with the Cuban people. They’re fighting for freedom. They’re fighting for liberty. One of our instruments of national power here in our country is information. We often hear about military and diplomatic and economic pressure, but we have an ability to provide internet, to allow communication, to help the Cuban people achieve freedom and achieve liberty.
Lee Zeldin: (26:25)
I certainly don’t want to ever see what we’re witnessing in Cuba grow here in the United States. We’re seeing the ills, the evils of socialism, the economic oppression, the lack of opportunity, the substandard housing, the substandard healthcare. None of that has any place in our country and for our allies, the Cuban people, for their families who are here in the United States, we have a duty and an obligation to speak up, to step up and to help ensure that the Cuban people are able to achieve that freedom.
Lee Zeldin: (27:04)
I’d like to thank Maria Salazar, and Mario, and Carlos and the Senators who are here. They are on the front lines of this fight in their home districts in south Florida. And they are pouring their heart and souls into this effort. And for any of their constituents who are watching this live stream, I will tell you as a Representative from New York, that I have heard Maria, and Mario, and Carlos passionately advocating for this cause every moment, every opportunity here in Washington, DC, and on behalf of my constituents and fellow new Yorkers who care about this issue deeply, we owe a debt to Maria, Mario, and Carlos for what they’re doing here in our nation’s capital and it’s an honor to stand here with them.
Maria Salazar: (27:50)
Thank you. Yeah. It’s an honor to stand with you and thank you very much for being in this press conference. And now I would like to introduce and give an opportunity to one of the shining stars of the Florida congressional delegation, Kat Cammack.
Kat Cammack: (28:06)
Thank you, Maria. And thank you to all my colleagues for being here today. Not just as a representative from the Sunshine State, a state which is home to more than 60% of the Cuban-American population in America today. But as an American, a freedom loving American, I have a simple message to the Biden administration. Freedom is not a la carte. You cannot condemn the actions of one dictator and then turn your cheek when it’s 90 miles in your backyard. We have an obligation to stand with the people of Cuba as they fight for freedom. As they fight for the basic human rights that they have been denied for 62 years.
Kat Cammack: (28:56)
This issue of the lack of engagement, the lack of internet, the lack of basic options and assistance from this administration… It’s embarrassing. It is horrific. And this administration continues indirectly to support a regime that has denied the rights of so many. As again, someone who represents a state that is home to over 60% of the Cuban population, as well as for those Cuban-Americans that serve right alongside me, both in Congress and in our office. I want you to know, we are with you. We stand with you. And if this administration chooses not to take action, not to condemn the actions of this regime, I know my colleagues and I will continue to fight in working with the private sector to deliver the very basic needs in order to bring freedom and liberty to the island. Patria Y Vida.
Maria Salazar: (30:01)
Thank you, Kat. And finally, I would like to welcome Representative Michelle Steel and she is with us not only in spirit, but she knows very well what we’re talking about because she’s fighting it. Her family fought it, and she is an eyewitness of what we want for not only for Cuba, but for the rest of the hemisphere. Michelle Steel from the state of California.
Michelle Steel: (30:21)
Thank you very much. And thank you all the colleagues that standing up for Cuban people. The United States is a beacon of freedom and democracy around the world. And we must stand united against communist regimes. My parents fled from North Korea and the country’s communist rule and saw the devastating impact of communism firsthand. My family knows what it was like to wait in lines for necessities. That is not how people deserve to live. And it’s how the people of Cuba are forced to live every day under communist rule. The Cuban people are protesting a decades long communist regime that has repressed millions. When I see what is happening in Cuba, I am reminded again why America is the greatest country on earth. In this country a first generation Korean-American can build an American dream here and become a Congresswoman. In our country we respect and value our freedom of speech and expression. This country and this administration must stand up for those values and I’m proud to stand in support of Cuban people, and thank you.
Maria Salazar: (31:42)
Well, thanks to all of you. Thank you for attending this press conference. If you need any extra bites, we’re going to be staying a couple of more minutes. In Spanish, if you need any other Spanish bites, we’re here too. Thank you very much and Cuba Libre and Patria Y Vida. Thanks again.
Maria Salazar: (32:06)
Great job, thanks for coming.