From Thursday's Republican Presidential nomination debate:
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, good evening.
The U.S. has been largely away in its foreign and trade policy with Latin America. In the meantime, Iran and China have been increasing their influence over an involvement in Latin America through the leftist and left-leaning governments.
What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and, importantly, to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?
BLITZER: Congressman Paul?
PAUL: Well, I think free trade is the answer. Free trade is an answer to a lot of conflicts around the world, so I'm always promoting free trade. And you might add Cuba, too. I think we would be a lot better off with Cuba, trading with Cuba.
... So, I think the more you can do to promote this free trade, the better off we'll be. But as far as us having an obligation, a military or a financial obligation to go down and dictate to them what government they should have, I don't like that idea.
I would work with the people and encourage free trade, and try to set a standard here where countries in Central America or South America or any place in the world would want to emulate us and set the standards that we have. Unfortunately, sometimes we slip up on our standards and we go around the world and we try to force ourselves on others.
I don't think the nations in South America and Central America necessarily want us to come down there and dictate which government they should have. And yet, I believe with friendship and trade, you can have a lot of influence, and I strongly believe that it's time we have friendship and trade with Cuba.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, are you with Congressman Paul?
SANTORUM: No, I'm not with Congressman Paul and I'm not with Barack Obama on this issue.
Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras, Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras, and the United States government, instead of standing behind the -- the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras -- instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America -- excuse me -- Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.
This is a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don't support democracy, not standing up for our friends in Colombia, not standing up for our friends who want to engage and support America, who want to be great trading partners and great allies for our country, to be able to form that kind of bond that is so essential in our own hemisphere.
The European Union understood how important it was for diverse people to be able to come together in an economic unit. We only -- not only have to come together as an economic unit, but the threat of terrorism, the threat of Iran now in Venezuela and in other places, and Cuba and in Nicaragua, the threat of radical Islam growing in that region -- is it important for -- it's absolutely important for us to have a president who understands that threat and understands the solution is closer ties. I will visit that area of the world, repeatedly, to solidify those ties when I become president.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is George Miatus (ph), I live here in Jacksonville and when I was 3-years-old I was very blessed that my parents brought me here from Cuba. They brought me here so that I could be raised in freedom and in liberty. President Obama has recently announced that he is liberalizing trade and travel policies. What would be your position as president toward the island of Cuba?
BLITZER: Senator Santorum?
SANTORUM: I would oppose it. I've been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba and the United States should stand on the side of the Cuban people against these despots who are not just reigning terror, continuing reign of terror in Cuba. But now have their -- their -- their puppet, Chavez in -- in Venezuela and Noriega and Morales and it keeps -- it keeps like a cancer growing. So the idea that a president of the United States would take the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America, and begin to reward behavior that has spread this cancer because of our dilly-dallying and our inattentiveness to the problems in Central and South America.
Now, we're going to reward the secret police. We're going to (inaudible) president of Venezuela as they are in Cuba. We're going to reward this type of thuggery, this type of Marxism in our region. We're going to reward a country that is now working with these other countries to harbor and bring in Iran and the terrorist -- the Jihadist's who want to set up missile sites and to set up training camps. And so we're going to reward this behavior by opening up and liberalizing. This is the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.
BLITZER: I want both of you to weigh in, Governor Romney first?
... ROMNEY: First of all, I think the president has largely ignored Latin America, Cuba in particular, Venezuela, and other nations. I think we have to change that dramatically.
I think we have to have economic initiatives to build trade throughout Latin America, particularly with Colombia and Panama, now part of free trade agreements. I want more of that throughout Latin America. But that's the first flaw, ignoring Latin America.
And number two is reaching out with accommodations to some of the world's worst actors, whether it was Putin in Russia, giving him what he wanted, or Castro, saying we're going to let you have remittances coming from the U.S. to fund your future, or relaxed trade restrictions. Throughout the world, with Ahmadinejad opening an open hand, tyrants look for weakness to take advantage. That's the wrong course.
The right course for Cuba is to continue to honor Helms-Burton. And if I'm president of the United States, I will use every resource we have, short of invasion and military action, Congressman Paul. I'll use every resource we can to make sure that when Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet, that we are able to help the people of Cuba enjoy freedom.
They want it. It's a God-given right. And it is our responsibility to help share the gift of freedom with people throughout the world that are seeking it.
BLITZER: Are you open -- Mr. Speaker, are you open to improving relations with Cuba?
GINGRICH: Well, let me start with where the governor correctly pointed out. I was very proud as Speaker to be able to make sure that the Helms-Burton Act passed, and I'm delighted that Congressman Dan Burton is here tonight and is campaigning with me, because it was a very important step towards isolating the Castro regime.
I think it's amazing that Barack Obama is worried about an Arab Spring, he's worried about Tunisia, he's worried about Libya, he's worried about Egypt, he's worried about Syria, and he cannot bring himself to look south and imagine a Cuban Spring. And I would argue that we should have, as a stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom. We want to bring together every non-military asset we have, exactly as President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher and Pope John Paul II did in Poland and in Eastern Europe.
They broke up the Soviet empire without a general war by using a wide range of things, one of which is just psychological, saying to the next generation of people in Cuba, the dictatorship is not going to survive. You need to bet to moving to freedom in order to have prosperity in Cuba, and we will help you get to that freedom.