Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss the recent protests in Cuba, attacks against diplomatic personnel, and COVID-19. See below for highlights and watch the full interview here.
On the Biden Administration’s decision to impose targeted sanctions on some Cuban officials responsible for human rights abuses:
“I think that would be a welcome step; that’s why [the Global Magnitsky Act] was passed in the first place. Now, most of the regime officials are already sanctioned because of their membership [in the regime] and different entities that are sanctioned under existing sanction rules that have been written and implemented in 2018 and 2019 -- but this would be welcome and it's additional pressure, especially if it begins to filter down to the mid-levels of the security forces. At the end of the day, the key here is to go after the loyalty and the confidence of those in the security apparatus in Cuba.
“So is it enough? No. I think there are other things that need to be done, including a diplomatic surge. We should be at the [Organization of Americans States] right now convening it, we should be pushing for the Human Rights Commission to go into Cuba and document these abuses from it. We might be able to levy additional Global Magnitsky sanctions and, ultimately, we need to provide VPN and internet access to the people of Cuba, so they can communicate with each other and with the world.”
On the Biden Administration’s decision to review remittances to Cuba:
“First of all, remittances are not outlawed now; what’s outlawed is doing business with any entity that’s owned by the military. And if you send a remittance to Cuba, the regime is the one that insists that it be handled by this bank they’ve set up in Panama. But if they allowed it to go directly to the Cuban people somehow -- that’s legal now. It’s really the regime that's keeping that from happening, and they have also prohibited depositing dollars”.
“All of the impediments [to sending] remittances to the people of Cuba are not on our side of it, it's on the Cuban side of it and the regime side of it. If there was a way to do it that would be great, but you’re not even allowed to spend dollars now, they force Cubans to convert dollars because the regime wants the dollars into Cuban currency, which is worthless -- it's worthless on the island, much less anywhere else in the world. The fundamental problem on remittances is on the Cuban regime side of it, not on the U.S. government side of it.”
On the mysterious attacks that have sickened diplomatic personnel serving in Havana and around the world:
“[CIA Director] Bill Burns deserves credit because...from the very first day he's taken over he made a promise that he's kept, and that is to treat this very seriously. Sometimes people in government have a tendency to downplay or dismiss what they don't understand and he hasn't done that, and he deserves credit for it.
“I think there are two things that are coming into focus here, some of which can be discussed publicly [and] some of which will have to wait. Number one is that the technology that can make something like this possible isn't all that exotic or all that novel, and my only view on the Cuba end of it is that, certainly, you couldn't do this against Americans in Cuba without the regime at least being aware of it.
“That said, there have been reports of it happening inside the United States, there [have] been reports in Europe and other places, and I think the more we look -- the more we start to find other instances of it -- I believe we can begin to get a definitive answer here. But what there should be no doubt of, is that American personnel serving abroad, and those of other countries, have been injured using something you don't normally see.”
On the possibility of sending diplomats back to Havana:
“The reason they were removed is we couldn't tell them how to protect themselves. You can’t send people to serve overseas and tell them, ‘By the way, the people that were there before you came back with these very serious injuries and we don't know how you can protect yourself.’
“So this is not about punishing the Cuban regime or punishing Cubans -- this is about how do we send Americans some place when we can't even tell them how to protect themselves against what happened to the people that were there right before that? That’s always been the challenge and that remains the challenge.”
On COVID-19 and the incentive to get vaccinated:
“I think what we've done and what you can do is, there’s three things. Number one, you have to make vaccines available, which they are readily available to all Americans, including those in Florida.
“Number two, government has a role to play in encouraging people to get vaccinated. I've done that consistently from the very beginning. I think everyone who is eligible should be vaccinated. But, ultimately, we’ve been telling people for a long time [that] they shouldn’t smoke, it causes cancer and heart disease, but some people still want to smoke. The numbers have come down, but people still do it. There’s a part here that has to do with individual responsibility.
“People have to understand that with the vaccine, if you're vaccinated, you might still get COVID -- but you're not going to wind up in a hospital, or intubated, or dead. And that's really the key here, and we have to continue to try to convince people of it.
“There are some people you will never convince, and in a free society there are limits to what a government can force people to do.”