HAVANA TIMES – Rex Tillerson, nominated by president-elect Donald Trump as secretary of state, said Wednesday that he favors maintaining the embargo on Cuba and considered Mexico a “neighbor and friend” of the United States, reported dpa news.
Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he answered questions from the senators at his confirmation hearing.
“If a bill was passed in Congress to remove the US embargo on Cuba and there had been no democratic changes on the island, would you advise the president to veto the law to lift the embargo on Cuba?” asked the Republican senator Marco Rubio, of Cuban origin.
“If it is confirmed, I would [advise a veto],” Tillerson said during the Senate hearing. Nonetheless, the final decision would be Trumps.
President Barack Obama has been in favor of lifting the more than half century embargo on Cuba, but only Congress can do so. After the thaw, Obama announced a series of measures to relax the embargo.
Tillerson said he is also willing to “review” the Obama administration’s executive orders on Cuba, including the possibility of re-including the island in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.
The Secretary of State nominee criticized the lack of human rights advances in Cuba after the resumption of bilateral relations with the United States.
Washington and Havana officially resumed bilateral relations in July 2015 after more than 54 years of rupture and ideological hostilities.
Tillerson lamented that the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana “was not accompanied by any kind of concession on human rights.”
“Their leaders have received a lot, while the people have received little. This does not serve the interests of Cubans or Americans,” added Tillerson, who, if confirmed by the Senate in his post, will be the new chief of US diplomacy.
On the other hand, the former chief of ExxonMobil said that Mexico is “a long time a neighbor and friend” of the United States.
During his appearance, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez asked Tillerson if he thought, like the future president, that Mexicans are criminals, drug traffickers and rapists.
“I would never characterize an entire population with a single term at all,” Tillerson said.
The aspiring secretary of state said he was willing to work with Mexico “for its importance” for the United States in the hemisphere and because both countries have “many common issues and areas of common concern.”
The construction of a wall on the Mexican border is one of Trump’s electoral promises.
The president-elect clarified Wednesday at a press conference in New York that the United States will advance the money for the border wall with Mexico to be able to build it more quickly, but reiterated that it he will then pass the bill to the neighboring country.
Trump, who assumes the presidency of the United States on January 20, has not yet clarified how he will get Mexico to reimburse the United States for the money. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated Wednesday that his country will not pay for the wall.
Tillerson is one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees because of his ties to Russia. In the Senate hearing he said that the policies of that country represent a threat and that it is “a hostile adversary”.
“Russia today represents a danger, but it is not unforeseeable in the pursuit of its own interests,” he said.
As president of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil firm, Tillerson negotiated a major energy deal with the Russians and Putin handed him the Order of Friendship in 2013, one of the highest honors granted to foreigners in Russia.
That relationship with Russia and its leader is why his nomination as the next secretary of state was highly criticized, especially in the context of the denunciation of Obama and US intelligence against Russian President Vladimir Putin accused of cyber-attacks against the Democratic Party during the campaign for the November 2016 US presidential elections.