The written exchange below is long, but a few comments stand out. The first is Tillerson’s ambiguity over the Colombia peace deal saying that if confirmed he will “review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”
Another is Cuba, where at first he does not call for a complete roll back of the Obama-era changes, saying in a more deal-oriented, open approach, “I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.” And also states later that he will “determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.” But then, when pressed more directly on whether he supports Vice President Pence’s call to roll back the Obama-era regulations governing in U.S. policy to Cuba, he says he will roll them back. He also adds rather curiously, “I will work bilaterally and multilaterally to identify training and technical assistance opportunities to assist with judicial reform, if I am confirmed.” In short, the secretary of state designate has left himself some wiggle room.
On Venezuela, there doesn’t seem to be much of a direct change in policy, other than more vocal support for human rights. Tillerson responded to a question on the situation in Venezuela: “The U.S. should continue to support legitimate dialogue to resolve the political crisis between the Maduro government and the opposition that now controls the National Assembly. We must continue to denounce the Maduro government’s undemocratic practices…” Perhaps legitimate dialogue means with a great commitment to human rights and a cost for noncompliance. We can hope. But for those who thought the former Exxon Mobil exec who watched his company’s interests illegally violated in Venezuela would seek reverence, there was no sense of that, at least in these responses.
For more, in his own words, on the likely secretary of state’s views on Mexico and Plan Merida, Canada and the Keystone Pipeline, Haiti, CICIG-Guatemala, and the Organization of American States please read on. (And these may indeed be his or an outside consultant’s words. Rumor has it that the State Department professional diplomatic corps was not consulted on any of these answers.)
- Mexico- A December 2016 report by the Center for Disease Control found that heroin is the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S. Most of the heroin ravaging U.S. communities comes from Mexico, where transnational criminal organizations control poppy cultivation, heroin production, and trafficking routes to the United States. The damage done to U.S.-Mexico relations during the campaign threatens to undermine the deepened security cooperation begun under President George W. Bush with the Merida Initiative. If confirmed, how will you work with the Government of Mexico to diminish the threat posed to American families by heroin? Will you continue the Merida Initiative and support the Mexican government’s efforts to reform its justice sector, expand training for civilian police, combat corruption, and protect human rights?
Tillerson: Mexico is a country of great importance to the United States, as a neighbor and trading partner. Although we will probably have differences with the government of Mexico regarding enforcement of our immigration laws, we will still need to continue to cooperate with Mexico on important issues of common interest, such as narcotics trafficking. If confirmed, I would review the track record of the Merida Initiative, and certainly endeavor to continue projects that improve Mexican performance in the areas you have noted.
- Canada-Reviewing Keystone Pipeline Permit: On November 6, 2015, following extensive technical consultations with eight federal agencies, Secretary of State John Kerry determined that it was in the U.S. national interest to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. The technical review foun marginal benefits for the American economy and our energy security, and a range of concerns for local communities and water supplies in the U.S. If confirmed, would you seek consider the Keystone pipeline matter settled, or would you seek to reopen the past technical review process or launch a new review?
During the campaign, the President-elect made a commitment to reopen this matter and proceed with the Keystone Pipeline-in the interests of energy security and job creation. If confirmed, I will quickly review the legal and foreign policy aspects of Secretary Kerry’s decision and work with the President-elect to carry out his policy objectives.
- Colombia – U.S. support for Colombia across three U.S. and three Colombian Administrations, through Plan Colombia and now Peace Colombia, is rightly seen as perhaps the most successful bipartisan foreign policy success in the 21st Century. The United States has invested billions while our Colombian partners have far outpaced that investment in terms of blood and treasure. Fifteen years ago, Colombia teetered on the edge of being a failed state. Today, it has an historic peace agreement and stands on the verge of joining the OECD. If confirmed, do you pledge to continue U.S. support for Colombia through Peace Colombia to help Colombia consolidate its historic peace agreement?
I agree that Plan Colombia has made a dramatic difference and can be considered a foreign policy success for both the United States and for Colombia. Colombia is, I believe, one of our closest allies in the hemisphere, and an important trading partner. If confirmed, I would make every effort to continue our close cooperation with the Colombian government, holding them to their commitments to rein in drug production and trafficking. I would also seek to review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.
- Venezuela- In 2016, Venezuela delivered the world’s worst economic performance in terms of GDP contraction and inflation. As the country has moved towards economic collapse, widespread shortages of essential medicines and basic food products have created an increasingly urgent humanitarian situation. This situation is complicated by an authoritarian government whose members are engaged in widespread corruption and, in the case of some officials, direct involvement in the drug trade. If confirmed, what policy tools do you recommend the United States use to resolve or mitigate the growing humanitarian crisis and collapsing economy Venezuela? How will you work with other governments in the region to address the challenges in Venezuela?
I think we are in full agreement as to the calamity that has befallen Venezuela, largely a product of its incompetent and dysfunctional government-first under Hugo Chavez, and now under his designated successor, Nicolas Maduro. If confirmed, I would urge close cooperation with our friends in the hemisphere, particularly Venezuela’s neighbors Brazil and Colombia, as well as multilateral bodies such as the OAS, to seek a negotiated transition to democratic rule in Venezuela. In the end, it will be rebuilt political institutions, led by brave Venezuelan democracy and human-rights advocates, that will pave the way for the kinds of reforms needed to put Venezuela on the path to economic recovery.
- Brazil- Since March 2014, an ongoing legal probe in Brazil has uncovered billions of dollars of corruption and led to the arrest of more than 160 people. In December 2016, pursuant to information uncovered in the aforementioned probe and in accordance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Brazilian company Odebrecht, S.A. and subsidiary Braskem, S.A. admitted that they had paid more than $788 million in bribes to foreign government officials and agreed to a settlement of $3.5 billion in penalties. Given your affirmative response to question G.1. in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questionnaire and expressed commitment to supporting U.S. efforts globally to address corruption, if confirmed as Secretary of State, will you use your voice to express support for ongoing independent legal investigations of corruption in Brazil? If confirmed as Secretary of State, will you seek to ensure the independence of the criminal probe opened by a Brazilian federal prosecutor to examine potentially corrupt investments in the hotel located at Rua Professor Coutinho Frois 10, Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro 22620-360, Brazil (formerly known as Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro), as well as any possible links between corrupt investments and the companies that own, developed, or managed the hotel?
If confirmed, I would see it as my duty to seek enforcement of American laws, including such statutes as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I do not believe it would be in the purview of the Secretary of State to interfere in another sovereign country’s internal legal deliberations-other than to ensure that if Americans are parties to a dispute that they are treated fairly, granted access to bona-fide legal counsel, and not discriminated against because of their American nationality.
- Last year, Democrats and Republicans came together to provide $750 million for a comprehensive assistance package to Central America to address the high levels of violence, weak rule of law, and widespread poverty driving irregular migration. This assistance was, in part, an acknowledgement by both parties in both chambers of Congress that when it comes to immigration, enforcement alone is not enough. Will you commit to building on this bipartisan progress and continue efforts and funding to address the root causes of Central America migration? As tens of thousands of vulnerable people arrive at the southern border, how will you ensure the United States’ legal and moral obligations are fulfilled in protecting their well-being and rights? Will you maintain the United States partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that Central American migrants fleeing violence receive sufficient protections and that they can be screened for relocation in third-countries?
Should I be confirmed as Secretary, I will work with Congress and the President-elect to ensure that our foreign policy priorities align with our domestic needs and fulfill our legal obligations. I have not yet been briefed on all aspects of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but should I be confirmed as Secretary, I will faithfully administer the Refugee Admissions Program consistent with law and the policy preferences of the President-elect.
- In its 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identified Mexican transnational criminal organizations as the “greatest criminal drug threat” to the United States. As you know, the State Department plays a central role in coordinating U.S. countemarcotics assistance and Mexican criminal organizations continue to illegally traffic South American cocaine and a growing volume of Mexican-produced heroin and Mexican- and Chinese-produced fentanyl into the U.S. -which is fueling opioid addiction and an alarming number of overdoses across the U.S. As we cannot resolve this challenge alone, if confirmed, what strategies will you employ to work with the Government of Mexico to combat these criminal organizations and the illegal drug trade?
If confirmed, I look forward to being fully briefed on the State Department’s current responsibilities and strategies in this area and helping the President-elect address the illegal drug epidemic in the United States, as appropriate and in consultation with other agencies with jurisdiction in this mission area.
- According to the DEA November 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) use a wide variety of smuggling methods, but “the most common method employed by Mexican TCOs involves transporting drugs in vehicles through [legal] U.S. ports of entry. Illicit drugs are smuggled into the United States in concealed compartments within passenger vehicles or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.” In the same report, DEA stated that from 1990 through FY2015, 224 tunnels were found under the U.S.-Mexican border, including 14 in FY2014 and 8 in FY2015. Do you agree with the DEA’s findings? Do you agree that a border wall would not prevent illicit narcotics from being trafficked through legal points of entry into the United States or subterranean tunnels?
If confirmed, I look forward to being fully briefed on the recent Drug Enforcement Administration threat assessment findings and helping the President-elect and the Secretary of Homeland Security stem the flow of illicit narcotics through legal points of entry.
- With each passing day, the humanitarian situation is worsening in Venezuela, and opposition activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers continued to be harassed, attacked, and imprisoned. More than 100 remain in jail. What should the United States do to prevent Venezuela from becoming a failed state?
The U.S. should continue to support legitimate dialogue to resolve the political crisis between the Maduro government and the opposition that now controls the National Assembly. We must continue to denounce the Maduro government’s undemocratic practices, call for the release of political prisoners, and enforce sanctions against Venezuelan human rights violators and narcotics traffickers. We should deliver humanitarian aid to mitigate food insecurity and the shortage of medical supplies, as appropriate.
- In Venezuela we must address how the deterioration of the rule of law and lack of respect for human rights contributes to regional stability vis a vis people flooding across borders, increased opportunities for drug smuggling and terrorism. I authored legislation that would sanction the regime leaders responsible for fomenting these anti-democratic developments. Would you commit to pressure the Venezuelan government to release ALL political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez and to hold the Maduro regime accountable for its crimes?
Yes, if I am confirmed.
- Despite the Obama Administration’s controversial and misguided decision to normalize relations with Cuba and its hope that this could lead to improved governance and human rights, Cuban officials continue to arrest dissidents and violate the rights of citizens, and tourism revenues benefit only government officials and a small minority of the population. How do you plan to approach the United States’ relationship with Cuba? How will you support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba? What bilateral and/or multilateral pressure will you exert to lessen authoritarian rule in Cuba?
If confirmed, I will engage with Cuba but continue to press for reform of its oppressive regime. I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba, empower civil society, defend freedom of expression, and promote improved Internet access and I will ask our allies to do the same.
- Will you continue to support programs that promote democratic voices and initiatives in Cuba like Radio and TV Marti?
Yes, if I am confirmed.
- What steps will you take to pressure the Castro regime to return American political fugitives like New Jersey cop-killer Joanne Chesimard?
If confirmed, I will engage bilaterally and multilaterally to bring these fugitives to justice.
- Will you work with the Treasury Department to ensure that no revenue from American businesses goes directly toward supporting the Cuban military and the regime?
Yes, if I am confirmed.
- What steps will you take to encourage the government of Cuba to release political prisoners, artists, journalists, and other Cubans being detained for politically-motivated reasons?
If confirmed, I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.
- What steps will you take to promote judicial reform in Cuba?
I will work bilaterally and multilaterally to identify training and technical assistance opportunities to assist with judicial reform, if I am confirmed.
- On October 12, 2016, PEOTUS Donald Trump stated, “The people of Cuba have struggled too long. Will reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored.” Do you stand by PEOTUS Trump’s commitment to reverse the Obama Administration’s Cuba regulations until freedoms are restored on the island?
Yes. There will be a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.
- On October 14, 2016, VPEOTUS Mike Pence reiterated this commitment by stating, “When Donald Trump and I take to the White House, we will reverse Barack Obama’s executive orders on Cuba.” Do you stand by VPEOTUS Pence’s commitment to reverse the Obama Administration’s Cuba regulations?
Yes, if I am confirmed.
- Years after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, meaningful rebuilding and redevelopment continues, but it is far from complete and Hurricane Matthew only complicated an already desperate situation for Haitian nationals. The U.S. Congress played an instrumental role in the recovery effort by approving $3.6 billion in assistance for the Haitian government and its people, but more work is needed. If confirmed, what measures as Secretary of State will you take to prioritize disaster assistance and recovery?
Unfortunately, Haiti appears to go through cycles of natural disaster and incomplete recovery over and over, in part because of its geographic location and also because of its history of poor governance. If confirmed, I would try to mobilize international support to share the burden of U.S. assistance for Haiti. Additionally, I would have the State Department reach out to the Haitian American community to join in recovery efforts.
- In 2016, Venezuela delivered the world’s worst economic performance in terms of GDP contraction and inflation. As the country has moved towards economic collapse, widespread shortages of essential medicines and basic food products have created an increasingly urgent humanitarian situation. This situation is complicated by an authoritarian government whose members are engaged in widespread corruption and, in the case of some officials, direct involvement in the drug trade. While final data is not available, the IMF projected that in 2016, the Venezuelan contracted 10 percent and inflation exceeded 750 percent; both figures are the highest in the world. If confirmed, what policy tools do you recommend the U.S. use to mitigate the growing humanitarian crisis, collapsing economy, and significant national security concerns present in Venezuela?
The United States should continue to support legitimate dialogue to resolve the political crisis between the Maduro government and the opposition that now controls the National Assembly. We must continue to denounce the Maduro government’s undemocratic practices, call for the release of political prisoners, and enforce sanctions against Venezuelan human rights violators and narcotics traffickers. We should deliver humanitarian aid to mitigate food insecurity and the shortage of medical supplies, as appropriate. U.S. assistance to Venezuela supports the defense of human rights, the promotion of civil society, and the strengthening of democratic institutions; however, Venezuela is currently subject to certain restrictions. Since 2005, Venezuela has ”failed demonstrably” to adhere to its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements.
- The Obama Administration has worked with our Latin American partners, both bilaterally and at the Organization of American States. How will you work with other governments in the region to address the challenges in Venezuela?
The growing political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is of great concern to the United States and our Latin American allies. We will engage partner nations in the region, like Colombia, which is directly impacted by a migration crisis from Venezuela, to improve the human rights and economic conditions in Venezuela. We will continue to strongly support the efforts of OAS Secretary General Almagro in invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter to promote the normalization of the situation in Venezuela and restore democratic institutions.
- In your role at Exxon, you have repeatedly expressed skepticism of U.S. sanctions. In the case, of Venezuela, the White House has carried out congressionally-mandated targeted sanctions against specific officials in the Venezuelan government that have been involved in human rights abuses and gross public corruption. If confirmed, will you advocate that the U.S. continue to hold Venezuelan government officials to account, especially given the acute levels of impunity in that country?
Yes. I will enforce all congressionally-mandated sanctions including the measures in the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Extension Act of 2016.
- During his tenure as former Commander of U.S. Southern Command, General John F. Kelly repeatedly spoke about the corrupting impact of illicit drug trafficking on democratic institutions and the rule of law in Central America. The United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Organization of American States Support Mission Against Corruption and impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) have played a critical role in stemming corruption and impunity in these countries. Given your affirmative response to question G.l. in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questionnaire and expressed commitment to supporting U.S. efforts globally to address corruption, if confirmed as Secretary of State, will you commit to maintaining continued U.S. political and financial support for CICIG and MACCIH?
Yes, we will continue to support the important anti-corruption mission of the CICIG in Guatemala and MACCIH in Honduras. We will also provide foreign assistance to our Central American partners to help combat crime and impunity, promote public safety, and ensure that citizens of those countries have access to a functioning and fair justice system.