Washington, D.C. — During a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Nominations Hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned Carlos Trujillo, current U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and Marshall Billingslea, nominee to be the next Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Video of Rubio’s remarks can be found here and a full transcript of Senator Rubio’s remarks are below.
Rubio: Let me begin with Ambassador Trujillo, who I’ve known for a long time. I’m excited and very supportive of your nomination. And one of the things I’m excited about, you know this is a Committee that oversees the State Department and diplomacy. And the way you have reinvigorated diplomacy at the OAS is a story that has not been told enough. Obviously, we’re not members of the Lima Group and its response to the Venezuelan crisis. But the supporting role the U.S. has played, in no small part, due to your efforts. But particularly the implication of the Rio Treaty, which is a mutual defense agreement in the hemisphere. In December 2019, I know it took a lot of old-fashioned diplomatic work behind the scenes with our partner nations in the region. And I think, it’s in no small part, due to you. You’ve been a major player in that effort.
I wanted to talk with you about two of the irritant points in our hemisphere. The first is Cuba. It’s interesting, you know, there’s a lot of talk about the embargo. To this day, there’s still not a lot of Japanese or German cars on the streets. There’s no German or Japanese embargo, although there are Mercedes that are being driven by government officials. But they’re basically able to buy any product they want from anywhere in the world. The reason why they can’t has nothing to do with the U.S. embargo, it has to do with the fact that the government there has no plan for developing its economy. The model of the aging leaders of that regime has basically been, “How do we hold on to power and restrict the both economic and political freedoms of people to do so?” I think that’s manifested, their desperation is manifested in their recent announcement that they’re now allowing people to buy in dollars with no fees attached. They used to take 10 percent of the dollars that were sent over there. It’s just because their currency is worthless around the world, so they need people to pull dollars underneath their cushions or get more remittances sent to them so they can have more dollars circulated that they can use to buy things.
This policy of control is largely evidenced by a military company [Gaesa] that controls the economy and the Communist Party that controls their politics. But a lot of the key people in that regime that are left are in their 80s and early 90s. So let’s just say that they’re not going to live forever.
Is there any hope in your mind, I’m not saying there’s a bunch of people there that are democrats and believe in values of freedom and liberty. But is there any hope that there is some new generation of leadership at some point within that government that would begin to move on some of these issues regarding economic and political freedoms?
Trujillo: Thank you, Senator, for your kind words. I do. I’ve spent a significant amount of time over the last two years working with the civil society, working with some of the younger people, working with some of the entrepreneurs, and they yearn for all the things that America has. They yearn for freedom, they yearn for an independent press, they yearn for democracy, they yearn for economic empowerment.
And I think now with social media and the sharing of information and how quickly information is accessible, these folk tales of how evil the “Yankee Empire” is no longer hold true. People can go on the Internet and see for themselves — “Why does my cousin, who live in Miami, have a nice pair of jeans and a decent house and food on the table, and I, who live in Santiago, am starving to death?” So I think there’s a lot of hope. I think the civil society in Cuba is better organized than people give them credit, under very, very difficult circumstances.
Rubio: On the issue of Venezuela, is it your belief that the Maduro regime is a government as opposed to a criminal enterprise? An organized crime syndicate that happens to control a national territory?
Trujillo: I agree with your assessment. It’s an illegitimate regime and it is deemed as such not only by the United States but by multiple countries across the world.
Rubio: Mr. Billingslea, on the Iranian-UN restrictions that are in place now — If those come off, I believe in October, would they then be allowed to sell weapons to, for example, Venezuela?
Billingslea: Well Senator, unfortunately the Iranian regime is proliferating weaponry. And I think in a different setting it would be good to make sure, well you will have on the Intelligence Committee access to all that information. The concern would be that they will have much more ready access to buy weaponry from the Russians and Chinese, who will no longer technically be prohibited from selling to them under the embargo.
Rubio: And on the question of arms control — I think, it’s by now, I hope, well-established in the minds of most people that no one can win a nuclear war fought with strategic nuclear weapons in which each side exchanges 1,500 warheads against each other. That’s not only a war you can’t win, it’s the end of the World. What is a danger is the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to escalate a fight in order to de-escalate. The notion that you could use a nuclear weapon — artillery, whatever it might be, a short range missile — to sort of stop a conflict, and the belief that that will not spiral into something bigger.
Is that not, at the end of the day, the area we should be most concerned about and the Russian violations of these tactical weapons? Is that they actually think they could potentially use it to win or de-escalate a conflict?
Billingslea: Senator, that is exactly right. And that is why we have focused in these Vienna talks on Russian nuclear doctrine. And so, as the teams deploy next week, one of the working groups we’ve agreed is a working group to cover both this matter of warheads and doctrine. We will be prepared to discuss the nuclear posture review and our thinking on nuclear doctrine, but we expect the Russians to be transparent on their doctrine as well. And we are greatly concerned about this concept of “escalate-to-win,” particularly when we are talking about a country like Russia, that seems to feel free to invade and occupy other nations.
On the case of China, we have a different issue, which is that China has not ever been part of an arms control dynamic that has led to the establishment of risk reduction measures, such as hotlines, we have the nuclear risk reduction center. We have an architecture that was put in place over the many, many years during the Cold War that has allowed us to avoid mishap. If China indeed intends to build up the way we believe they will, we must get at this matter of transparency and confidence building measures with the Chinese government.
Rubio is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues. Rubio is currently Acting Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Majority Administrative Cochairman of the Senate National Security Working Group.
- March 17, 2020: Chairman Rubio welcomed Ambassador Trujillo’s nomination to serve as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere at the U.S. Department of State.
- February 17, 2019: Rubio, U.S. Ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo, and Congressman Díaz-Balart traveled to the Colombia-Venezuela border to see firsthand the ongoing humanitarian aid program spearheaded by the United States through USAID.
- March 23, 2018: Rubio welcomes confirmation of Carlos Trujillo to serve as U.S. Ambassador to OAS.