On Tuesday, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump railed against the Cuban government and said the U.S. would not lift its sanctions against Cuba. Trump has moved to reverse the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and reimpose travel and trade restrictions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said the U.S. may close the embassy over a host of unexplained health problems that embassy workers are suffering, including hearing loss and brain injury. The health problems appear to be caused by some form of sonic attack. Cuban officials deny any involvement in the apparent sonic attack and are cooperating with U.S. officials to investigate the incidents. We speak with José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney who represented the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite Luis Posada Carriles. We also speak with Jeri Rice, director of the film “Embargo,” a new documentary about U.S.-Cuba relations premiering this week in New York.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show by looking at the United States and Cuba. On Tuesday, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump railed against the Cuban government and said the U.S. would not lift its sanctions against Cuba. Trump’s comments on Tuesday were his administration’s latest attacks on the Cuban government. He has moved to reverse the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and reimpose travel and trade restrictions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also says the U.S. may close the embassy over a host of unexplained health problems that embassy workers are suffering, including hearing loss and brain injury. The health problems appear to be caused by some form of sonic attack. Cuban officials deny any involvement in the apparent sonic attack and are cooperating with U.S. officials to investigate the incidents. I want to play—we have it now—Trump speaking on Tuesday at the General Assembly.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The United States has stood against the corrupt, destabilizing regime in Cuba and embraced the enduring dream of the Cuban people to live in freedom. My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go directly to Havana, Cuba, to speak with attorney José Pertierra. He represented Elián González in 2000-2001, also represented the Venezuelan government in its efforts to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
Well, right now, can you talk about this latest comment of President Trump and the response of Cuban officials in Havana, where you are?
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Well, first of all, good morning, Amy. It’s good to be with you again. We usually find ourselves in strange places—now in Havana, before in Caracas.
President Trump’s comments are not surprising. He has been railing against half the world’s population and his own since before he became president. Tillerson’s comments on Sunday, that they’re considering closing the embassy, are troubling, however. It would be scaling back dramatically President Obama’s moves to normalize as much as possible diplomatic relations between the two countries. I can tell you, this is a proud country. Cuba will survive and will resist this latest attempt by an American president to continue to blockade it. But it’s a disappointment, because Obama had gone so far, and now Trump wants to take it all back.
AMY GOODMAN: We don’t know the extent to which Trump is going to reverse the executive order of President Obama trying to normalize relations, though, with Cuba. They’ve just said they are working on it, whatever that means. But if you could also comment on this sonic attack and what you understand has taken place, so many people in the U.S. Embassy sickened by—well, it’s not clear what?
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Well, Amy, you know, the sonic attack, nobody seems to know what was used to cause these hearing problems on the part of American diplomats. I can tell you, every time I come back from Cuba, I’m half-deaf, because we, in Cuba, seem to yell at each other all the time. We can’t speak in a normal tone of voice. But, more seriously, there have been attempts over the years—
AMY GOODMAN: It is Americans and Canadians.
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: —on the part of some people—correct, Americans and Canadians. There have been attempts over the years by some people to scuttle good relations between the two countries. For example, in 1976, there were secret negotiations going on between the Ford administration and the Cuban government. And we know that some Cuban exiles engaged in the worst year of terrorism against Cuba, because they wanted to provoke the Cuban government into a response and for a rupture to those secret negotiations. I wouldn’t be surprised, if anybody was involved in these attacks, it would be somebody in Miami or somebody in the United States who didn’t want normal relations between the two countries. I would be absolutely shocked if it was the government of Cuba. And, you know, President Raúl Castro has even invited the FBI to come here. He’s talked to the American ambassador, DeLaurentis. This is unprecedented. And it means that Raúl is as baffled as American health authorities about this whole thing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we want to also look at a new documentary about U.S.-Cuba relations. It’s called Embargo, and it’s premiering this week in New York. This is a clip of the trailer. It begins with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and the son of Robert Kennedy.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: When the missile crisis came, my father spent most of the 13 days in the White House, and he said that we had to be good soldiers and show up at school, and if there was a nuclear war, that none of us would want to be around afterwards.
SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Each small mistake could bring us to the confrontation. As my father repeated, “If we lose control, we will not be in charge.”
LUCIE ARNAZ: Dad virtually told me nothing about Cuba. When Castro came in to overthrow Batista, my father must have been pretty thrilled, actually, you know, because he could remember Batista was not such a great guy.
LAMAR WALDRON: We’ve been lied to since 1959 about Cuba, and we’re still being lied to today. This unholy alliance between Nixon, the Mafia and the CIA is still impacting us today.
ALLEN DULLES: At no time has the CIA engaged in any political activity that was not approved at the highest level.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON: We made it United States policy to assassinate Fidel Castro.
ANN LOUISE BARDACH: Wow! This is not what we bargained for. We just thought we were going to get rid of a corrupt government.
AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Ann Louise Bardach, the well-known reporter who’s covered Cuba for years.
For more, we’re joined by Jeri Rice, director of the documentary Embargo. And still with us in Havana, Cuba, is attorney José Pertierra.
Jeri, welcome to Democracy Now! The film just opened in L.A., now in New York. Why did you do this? And talk about what these—what the people in that film clip are saying about this 50-year history, more than that?
JERI RICE: Well, first of all, I went to Cuba originally in 2002 with Senator Cantwell and a group of women from the University of Washington. And I’m an American that grew up during the Cuban missile crisis generation and the assassination of President Kennedy. And those were, you know, hidden scars that I didn’t really understand that I had, until the day that I met Fidel Castro in Havana. And after I met Fidel Castro, what he said to our group of women, which was kind of shocking to me as an American, he said, “I tried to create a utopia, and I did not succeed. And I don’t have time to fix it.” And I saw the humility of this man that I had for my entire life thought was a monster, and this country that I was terrified of, and I saw a very different view of that when I went. And Americans aren’t really allowed to go to Cuba in a traditional sense.
And I came home from that trip and met the people that are in my film—Bobby Kennedy Jr.; Khrushchev’s son; José Pertierra; Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Colonel Wilkerson; Lucie—
AMY GOODMAN: Nikita Khrushchev’s son.
JERI RICE: Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei Khrushchev. And what I—
AMY GOODMAN: Lucie?
JERI RICE: Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz’s daughter. It’s kind of a father-son-daughter story. It’s a generational story, pretty much aimed at younger people at—
AMY GOODMAN: What’s Desi Arnaz’s involvement?
JERI RICE: Well, what’s really interesting about Desi Arnaz is, we all think it started in 1959. He escaped Cuba in 1933 under Batista, because his family was in the government, and they tried to murder him. They burned his farm. They burned everything. He came to this country, like the Cubans that came in ’59, with nothing, and built up, you know, what we fell in love with, as the I Love Lucy show.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, your film explores that—you mentioned Batista—explores the connection between Batista and Richard Nixon and the CIA. What did you—what did you find out?
JERI RICE: Well, first of all, I found out there’s a link, through our American history, between the assassination of Kennedy, between Watergate, Iran-Contra, all the way up to today. And if you unpeel the onion that is the history between the United States and Cuba, you’re going to find a lot of the links to why we are where we are in the world today. And the end of the film does address, you know, Marco Rubio and President Trump rolling back the history, back to basically 1962, where we’re again talking about nuclear war. And what has changed?
AMY GOODMAN: What about Richard Nixon? And we know about the Kennedys. What’s Richard Nixon’s involvement here?
JERI RICE: Well, Richard Nixon was very close to the Bush family. And when he originally was, you know, the vice president, Fidel Castro had come to the United States in 1960 to meet with Eisenhower. And Eisenhower refused to meet him, according to Bobby Kennedy Jr., because he had a golf game, so he gave him to Richard Nixon. And Richard Nixon, you know, refused any assistance to Castro and to help the revolution go forward, after Batista had left the country with $400 million and left them completely broke.
And so, Richard Nixon’s history, all the way through to Watergate, was—he worked with Bebe Rebozo, and they had a bank in Miami where they were laundering money. I mean, there was so much corruption and bribery between the mob, the CIA and Richard Nixon. And you really get the basis—there’s a great book that’s—author in the movie, Lamar Waldron, that does Watergate: The [Hidden] History. And when you go back, you know, Watergate was not about what we thought it was about. It was about a dossier that Fidel Castro had given to the Chilean government. And it was about the assassination attempts on his life. And when you talk about the Bay of Pigs, which Bobby Kennedy in the movie says that Richard Nixon was the author of, and then you talk later about that Bay of Pigs sting that Richard Nixon talks about in Watergate, they’re connected. And the assassination attempts and the CIA and—it’s a very complicated story, that it took me 14 years to tell in the film, Embargo.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to José Pertierra, who’s joining us from Havana, Cuba. The significance of what Jeri Rice found in Embargo, and that history in terms of where we are today?
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Well, Amy, the significance is that there’s a whole lot of people in the United States who, through the years, have wanted to better relations between the two countries, but there’s an awful lot of other people who have not. Right now, Cuba has suffered from a terrible hurricane, for example. What Cuban Americans should be doing is helping the Cuban people. What the American people should be doing, instead of making accusations against Cuba, it should be offering an olive branch, as good neighbors do, as Cuba did with the governments of the islands of the Caribbean, who suffered from the same hurricane.
But we see a president in the United States who seems to have more enemies than you can shake a stick at. He’s the enemy of most of the world and a good part of his own population. He’s accusing the Cuban government of corruption. There’s no—not a shred of evidence that that’s true. But there’s a whole lot of evidence that he and his cronies are the ones that are corrupt. So, I would hope that the American people resist the Trump administration, get rid of it and get somebody sane in the White House again.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there someone, in these last seconds, that he is responding to? That even the conservative Cuban community, especially young people, are against the embargo, want to open up relations. Who is he responding to, President Trump?
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: Well, there are five congressmen that are Cuban Americans who respond to the interests of the monied classes in Miami. And Trump has seemed to have ceded his policy in Latin America to the ideas of Marco Rubio, Senator Rubio, who everyone agreed, when he was running for president, was nothing more than an empty suit. But it is Marco Rubio who’s calling the shots on Cuba policy, on Venezuela policy, on Mexico policy. And, you know, really, United States policy should be set in Washington and not in Miami—
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.
JOSÉ PERTIERRA: —and should not be part of Miami politics.
AMY GOODMAN: José Pertierra and Jeri Rice, director of Embargo, we will do Part 2 right after the broadcast.