The Stakes in the Cuba Debate Raised

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, May 20, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

Watch Special Report With Brit Hume weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

Other guests and topics for
May 20 included:
• James Rosen: On the heels of a visit to Cuba by former President Jimmy Carter, President Bush outlines his vision for future relations between the United States and the communist island
• Orlando Salinas: Some critics of President Bush say his new Cuba policy is tailored more toward winning the political support of Cuban Americans than improving life on the island
• Jim Angle: In the past two days, several senior administration officials come out publicly to clearly say that more attacks are not only expected, they're viewed as inevitable
• Catherine Herridge: The Justice Department issues a report today that there are no indications the I.N.S. acted improperly in letting two Sept. 11 hijackers into the country
• Douglas Kennedy: There are three candidates vying to become the next governor of Pennsylvania, and voters in the state head to the polls to narrow the field down to two
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Cuba must not only be independent, Cuba must be free. Viva Cuba libre!


BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, that was the message to a group in Washington and later a group down in Miami by the president who basically said that — well, some expected he was going to toughen the embargo. He didn't really do that so much, but he certainly didn't loosen it very much, if at all and he did so in ringing terms as you just heard. This was met with stern disapproval on Capitol Hill from some long time critics of the embargo on Cuba, led by, I think it's fair to say, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.  Let's listen to part of what he had to say.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: The Bush administration and the Castro administration, on these particular points, are very much alike in that they're both refusing to listen to the voices of their own citizens calling for change. U.S.-Cuban relations are held hostage to a small minority in each country.


HUME: All right, what about that? What about that?

HUME: That's an interesting — that certainly raises the stakes in the debate a little bit, doesn't it?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: In Cuba's case, it's a minority of one, you know, namely Fidel Castro, whatever is good for Fidel Castro is what prevails in Cuba. Look, I think that the — we now know why the president signed the Farm Bill, right, because it's farm states that want to trade with — trade with Cuba and a lot of Republicans in farm states want to trade with Cuba. The president says no for the sake of Florida, we're not going to trade with Cuba. So, you give all this largess to the farmers as a payoff against the miss was ...

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: You're kidding, right?

KONDRACKE: I'm partly ...

BARNES: You're kidding.

KONDRACKE: ... kidding, I'm partly kidding. This was — the president should not charge the taxpayers any money for this trip down there. This was an entirely political trip. He's going to raise a couple of million dollars for his brother ...

KONDRACKE: ... tonight and this speech was all about — was all about ...

HUME: But what about the policy?


KONDRACKE: The policy — the policy is that we will lift the trade embargo when Fidel Castro agrees to free elections and by essentially dismantling his regime. There is no incentive here for Castro to do anything right. It's all ...

BARNES: We're going to get embargo lifted.


BARNES: It gets the embargo lifted. If ...

KONDRACKE: When he's gone ...

KONDRACKE: When he completely gives ...

KONDRACKE: There is no — there are no instrumental steps.

BARNES: The assumption that you're operating on is one I actually share, but it's certainly not one shared by Chris Dodd and the American press and so on and that's that Castro, if you have a fair election, he'll get tossed.


BARNES: I think he will get tossed too, but I bet he doesn't believe that. He probably thinks he really is popular and then you know we always find out later that these dictators who we've said were so popular — Gorbachev, look how popular he was, one percent when they had an election is what he got. Lenin, Stalin, all those guys, they were knocking down their statues, and the same will happen with Castro. But look, these are simple, easy steps for Castro to follow. He has to let opposition parties ...

HUME: Exist ...

BARNES: ... be there in the country. He has to let human rights organizations come in and look around. He has to release some political prisoners and he ...

KONDRACKE: No. No. No. No.

BARNES: ... he has to take a gamble and have a free election.

KONDRACKE: It doesn't ...

BARNES: Is that so much? That happens all over the world. It's a very simple thing and look, Bush didn't say that Castro has to be out. He didn't say you have to have all these free market reforms made. He just said you have to start taking steps in that direction and then we can talk.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:  Let's hope that Fred is right and that Castro will believe that he can win a free election so he'll have a free election. But I think that's unlikely. I think Bush's speech today was to take back Jimmy Carter's speech.


LIASSON: There were reports, especially in the Wall Street Journal  today, that somehow he had been affected by the Castro trip and was going to, not so much soften his ...

HUME: By the Carter trip.

LIASSON: I'm sorry. By the Carter trip, he wasn't going to soften the policy, but he was going to somehow say well, if you make a little step, we'll make a little opening. I think he certainly didn't do that.  It was a tear down this wall, Mr. Castro, type of speech, but I think that it is worth pointing out that there are many elements in the Republican Party, including agricultural interests that want the embargo lifted because a lot of European countries are in there making deals, and there is — there is pressure. It's not going to happen until after this election, but I think it is growing.

HUME: So, Mort, your interpretation of that is that this is not a sign that the president can stand up even to elements within his own party for something he believes in, but a sign that because of this, he had to make a payoff to those elements by signing the farm bill?

KONDRACKE: No, I am jesting in part. I mean I don't think that — he signed the farm bill to — in order to get the farm vote in this election.  It had very little to do with Castro, but, but, but, it is a fact that the — that the farm state Republicans wanted to have Cuba open. So, I mean that may have been an extra incentive.

BARNES: It's not ...

KONDRACKE: But I don't — now wait a minute ...

HUME: Hold on, Fred. Let him finish.

KONDRACKE: I have yet to hear — now this — I think this was a strictly a political speech designed to help his brother get re-elected in Florida. It was — it didn't change his policy at all. It didn't confront any interest. I would like to see him make the same speech about china — substitute the words China for Cuba. He would — he would never do it. Why? No Florida voters.

BARNES: Look ...

LIASSON:  ... the business community is not for that kind of policy.

BARNES: No, they aren't. They certainly aren't — now look, Mort, here's your problem and ...

HUME: Quickly.

BARNES: ... it doesn't — the problem here is lack of democracy in Cuba. That is the issue. You're getting all worked up about the embargo and incentives and Bush and why he did it. That stuff is peripheral. It is democracy in Cuba that should be the issue. That's what you ought to be talking about rather than why he signed the farm bill.  That's nonsense.

KONDRACKE: I want democracy in Cuba. I think it's more likely to get it ...

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