California Congressman Ed Royce joined me today to discuss the president’s decisions on Cuba, and what if any impact the North Korean move on Sony has on his agenda in the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2015:
HH: Joined now by Congressman Ed Royce. Congressman Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Chairman, welcome, it’s great to have you back.
ER: Hugh, good to be with you.
HH: Your jurisdiction is much in the news, on Cuba and North Korea. Let’s start with Cuba. What is your reaction to the President’s decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba today?
ER: Well, it’s the way in which he’s doing it, Hugh, that’s so hard to believe, in terms of negotiating strategy. Up until now, what we’ve been trying to leverage out of the Cubans, and they’re really up against it, because Venezuela can no longer support them, we have been trying to get them to change their system so that workers in Cuba can actually get a direct paycheck from any company coming from the United States. So if you’re in the travel industry, and you’re going there to Cuba, the thing you should know is that you’re actually depositing the money in the account controlled by Raul Castro, who also controls the security forces there. The amount that a worker in Cuba gets paid can be as little as five cents on the dollar. The rest of it goes into their security apparatus. And that is used to maintain, you know, the control over the island, but also for all the skullduggery they’re involved in, in Latin America, Central America. I’m just back from South America and Central America, and the topic was Cuba’s attempts to overthrow governments down there. So why not negotiate something that would, that we’ve negotiated in the past with Vietnam, and with other countries like China? Why not at least do that for the workers if you’re going to give everything on our side of the ledger?
HH: So what do you put this down to, Ed Royce? Why did the President act this way?
ER: Maybe a failure to understand the political and economic system there is such an egregious exploiter of the Cuban worker, but maybe also a lack of awareness in terms of what Cuba did last month in terms of the arrests of nearly 400 political prisoners there. And if you go through the duration of the year, you’ve got over 8,000 political prisoners arrested this year in Cuba. So human rights should be part of the negotiation, right, because the way in which a country treats its own people tells you something about how it might treat its neighbors, or what it might do to try to overthrow a government, as they helped do in Venezuela, Bolivia, so forth. The other observation I would make is that the administration is turning a blind eye in this negotiation to Cuba’s conduct. You recently had this situation this year where a North Korean ship went through the Panama Canal, and it was caught with this stash of Cuban weapons, everything from Mig fighters to you name it, you know, headed over to North Korea. Now under United Nations sanctions, this is not permitted to sell arms to North Korea, or transfer arms there. So this is clearly why they’re on the list of sponsorship of, a state sponsorship of terrorism.
HH: Of terror.
ER: So again, you’re turning a blind eye to Cuba’s conduct, and you’re encouraging a result which will mean more money into the coffers controlled by Raul and Fidel Castro, which will mean more assets deployed in South America and Central America to try to overthrow governments there. So that has to be taken into the calculus here.
HH: I’ll come back to North Korea in a moment. I wish to spend just a moment, though, on that export of revolution. That is, in your opinion, ongoing? It’s not something that’s a legacy problem that Fidel started and Raul has stopped?
ER: The export of revolution is an ongoing problem. It’s a problem today in South America for governments there that are influenced by Cuban agents and operations. There’s an ongoing effort to compromise and to switch governments. And if you want to see what the results look like, look at what’s happened in Venezuela. Look at Ecuador today, or look at Bolivia. What a sad, sad commentary in terms of the ability to spread mayhem. We’re still, and I was just in Colombia and in Peru. You still see the aftermath of societies trying to deal with the terrorism spawned by Cuba. And Cuba still has their hands in whipping this up. The only thing that limits them is they don’t have as much, you know, ability with foreign exchange with hard currency as they once had. Well, after these negotiations with the White House, they could very easily get their hands on more of it, thus meaning more problems in Latin America for democracy, because what they’re pushing is not democracy. It’s communism.
HH: I’m talking with Ed Royce, who’s chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee. Mr. Chairman, in terms of Guantanamo Bay, I’ve heard the concern expressed that this president is really pursuing such a radical ideological agenda that he may very well sever that treaty and return Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans. Do you worry about that?
ER: Well, I do worry about his intent to, his fixation with shutting down Guantanamo Bay. As you recognized with the transfer of the five Taliban terrorists out of Guantanamo Bay, that had a lot more to do with having an excuse to send those five to Qatar, because those were the five that were going to be hardest to get any country, or to have a rationale for us to transfer out of our custody. The reason it was going to be hard was because three of them were directly al Qaeda. And so, and by the way, they’ll end up back on the battlefield trying to kill us again. But I think what drove it was not so much getting the return of Bergdahl. I think what drove it was the attempt, as I think you suspect, of closing Guantanamo. So this gives him one more avenue to move forward with those negotiations. My concern also is about, again, his negotiation strategy. When you trade five terrorists for, you know, for one defector, or we’re right now in the process of trading three Cuban spies for a foreign asset who was in Cuba, and for a USAID worker. Let’s face it. That should have been a no-brainer if Cuba wanted better relations. Return our USAID worker, you know. So I think it’s just a very lopsided negotiation strategy where you know, Reagan said negotiate through strength.
HH: Now Mr. Chairman, before we go to break, and I hope I can keep you over, are you surprised, you’re a Southern Californian like I am, that the film industry and the distributors collapsed in front of the cyber terrorism threat today?
ER: I am surprised. First, I’m surprised at the depth and the ability of the North Koreans to do this much damage. But I am surprised that this institution has collapsed. And the reason I think it’s vexing is because it’s going to encourage others to use the same strategy in the future to exert their demands. So you’re going to find other state sponsors of terrorism, probably, contemplate now wow, look what North Korea just got away with.
HH: Yeah, that what gets rewarded gets repeated.
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HH: Mr. Chairman, it is being reported this evening that North Korea is behind the attack on Sony and the cyber threats, reliably by ABC News and others. What should the response of the United States be?
ER: Well, in as much as they’ve also attempted to test our grid, and access our energy grid and other crucial infrastructure, I think at this point we need to respond as a country. We have the option of the types of sanctions that we once put on Banco Delta Asia, that walled off North Korea from the international banking system. If we do this, we know what the results were last time. We had caught them at that point counterfeiting hundred dollar U.S. bills. And so we sanctioned any financial institution that did business with the regime. And within a matter of six weeks, you know, Kim Jung Un could not pay his generals. That’s not a good position for a dictator to be in…
ER: …because he didn’t have any hard currently. Most of the money that comes in to North Korea comes in through clandestine means, and they’re money laundered through these banks. So when you freeze the accounts at the banks, and you tell the institutions you’re either going to do business with the United States or you’re going to do business with North Korea, they all make the decision, okay, we’ll freeze the account. That’s what we should do. When that was done by the Treasury Department, we also know that it shut down the production line for their missile program, at least that’s back when I…
HH: When did we did that, Mr. Chairman? When was that first done?
ER: That was several years ago. It was during the Bush administration. And it was actually Treasury that took the lead in doing it. And I remember it was the State Department that convinced the Bush administration to lift those sanctions afterwards. And this was very vexing to our Treasury Department of the United States, because they had felt that they had such pressure on the regime, that the regime may have imploded. Now a lot of people don’t want to see the North Korea regime implode, because they don’t know what the consequences would be. But wouldn’t you sooner see it implode before they had the capability of delivery of their nuclear weapons program, especially when you consider that those three stage ICBM’s are intended to reach the United States? I think now would be the time. Now we have the rationale to go forward and put those sanctions in place. Now I passed that legislation, Hugh, over to the Senate. But my Senate colleagues haven’t taken it up. I would say now’s the time to have that leverage, pass it, put the sanctions on North Korea that would give him a choice between compromise on that nuclear program or economic collapse.
HH: Do you expect that that will one of the very first matters taken up in the 114th Congress, Mr. Chairman?
ER: I will definitely be taking that up and passing it over into the Senate again. And I suspect now with the Republican majority in the Senate, we will have much more enthusiasm, because leader Harry Reid, of course, was never enthusiastic about these approaches.
HH: Now would your legislation mandate those sanctions? Or would they simply allow the President additional authority to impose them?
ER: I would frankly suggest at this point that we make it a mandate. And the reason I think it’s necessary we respond to North Korea is because the attack on Sony, and you know, it demonstrates a vulnerability that the FBI has told us exists with 90% of American firms. So you know, it’s one thing to hack a film studio. But we also know that, you know, about their attitude about our energy grid and other crucial infrastructure, I just think at this point we’ve got to do two things. One is react by showing that there’s a cost of this kind of assault into the United States, show that anyone who’s going to attempt it is going to face a very real cost. And second, we’ve got to go forward with cyber infrastructure security. You know some of the debate about what an EMP attack could do. But the same is also true of some of this hacking. And so we did at the end of the session, finally, with this as leverage, to get some of our bills, four of our cyber security bills, through the Senate. But there’s much more we need to do on that front.
HH: We have 30 seconds left, Ed Royce. Are you disappointed that the President hasn’t spoken out on the North Korean cyber terrorism and that he’s basically not suggested to our theaters that they stand up?
ER: I think peace through strength was what Reagan said. You have to show resolve. The fact that we’re not showing any resolve only encourages further erosion of our national security.
HH: Chairman Ed Royce, always a pleasure to talk with you or see you, and I hope I’ll see you during the Christmas break out in Southern California.
End of interview.