Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Cuba: Withstanding the Tests of Time

After devoting six years to building stronger relations between Cuba and France, H.E. Eumelio Caballero Rodriguez, the Ambassador of Cuba to France, shares his thoughts on the two countries’ cultural ties and Cuba’s efforts to help improve the volatile international situation.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, recent Cuban history has been deeply marked by your country’s tempestuous relations with the United States. While there have been signs of a limited rapprochement, the two nations continue to eye each other with distrust. Where do you see Cuban-American relations heading? What can be done to encourage the normalization of Cuba-U.S. ties?

H.E. Eumelio Caballero Rodriguez: Let me make myself quite clear here, and start by reminding your readers that Cuba’s problems with the United States began at the close of the 19th century, with the 4-year U.S. military occupation of Cuba after Spain’s defeat in what we call the Spanish-Cuban American war. This paved the way for carrying out future military interventions, asserting U.S. control over Cuba’s most productive lands and key economic sectors, and taking total control of the country’s political life.
This chain of domination and neocolonial exploitation was soundly refused and actively opposed by the majority of the Cuban people. It was definitively broken on January 1st, 1959, with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.
Today, after 45 years of embargo and bitter hostility, the American far right is still seeking to bring down the Revolution and reassert the United States’ hold on the island. This is why we are seeing renewed aggression on the part of the current American administration, which constitutes a veritable danger. Fortunately, the majority of Americans are in favor of normalizing bilateral relations, and their ranks continue to swell, even within the Cuban community. The current of History also favors this trend, which we hope to see prevail.
Cuba has never harmed the United States, nor has it ever presented a threat to the American people. To the contrary, we have offered, time and time again, to sign cooperation treaties aimed at fighting plagues affecting our two peoples, such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and organized crime. We are well aware of and have great respect for the historic merits of the American people. We are firmly convinced that the establishment of civilized and friendly relations would greatly benefit both countries. 

T.D.L.: Cuba has managed to expand and diversify its foreign relations, in spite of the U.S. embargo. What role would you like to see your country play on the international  stage, and how do you see that stage changing in our ever more globalized world?

H.E.E.C.R.: There are many reasons for the extensive expansion and diversification of Cuba’s international ties during the revolutionary period, despite the embargo and the countless efforts to isolate and stigmatize our country. Cuba has established active diplomatic relations with 178 nations around the globe. It has 132 missions working abroad, including 109 embassies. Havana is one of Latin America’s most universal, active and dynamic capitals. Its diplomatic corps is comprised of 86 embassies, along with numerous consulates and various foreign missions. Havana also hosts a great many international meetings and conferences, in every arena of human endeavor.
I think that Cuba’s preeminent role on the international stage is due to a variety of factors: strong interest in the Cuban revolution beyond our borders; sound economic and social transformations within the country; Cuba’s steadfast defense of its sovereignty and independence; its implementation of a dignified foreign policy based on principles and objectives laid out in the United Nations Charter; and finally, its cooperation and active solidarity with the countries of the Third World. This influence is reflected by the more than 15,000 Cuban doctors sharing their skills in 64 countries, and by the 17,000 young people from some 110 countries currently studying in Cuba.
As we head into the future, Cuba will continue to play an energetic role in international organizations and meetings. It will be equally active at the sub-regional and bilateral levels, striving to counter unrestrained neoliberalism and make a constructive contribution to efforts to build a fairer and safer world. A world characterized by the globalization of solidarity, full enjoyment of human rights, and respect for diversity. A world of peace and well-being for all peoples, without discrimination of any kind.

T.D.L.: While Cuba is often praised for its undeniable accomplishments in the arena of human development, it  still draws criticism for failing to ensure individual freedoms. Could you share your own thoughts on this problem, which continues to tarnish your country’s image? What are Cuban authorities doing to turn the situation around?

H.E.E.C.R: The media onslaughts against Cuba’s human rights record have nothing to do with the real situation inside our country. They are part of the hostile policy the United States has pursued for over forty years now. No, we are not perfect, but we have worked tirelessly to achieve our ultimate goal: the well-being and happiness of our people. We have made a great deal of headway in this arena. In its annual report, the UNDP ranks Cuba number one as concerns the national resources-human development ratio. We do have more to do, but if we weren’t facing a hostile U.S. policy, if this criminal embargo wasn’t in place, it would no doubt take less time and be less painful to do it. To people who don’t believe that, or who  have been fooled by the venomous propaganda against Cuba, we can only reiterate that they shouldn’t believe it, and should instead come visit Cuba to see for themselves.

T.D.L.: Your country is determined to carry out a transition  tailored to its specific needs, as seen when Cuba began opening up its economy by legalizing the dollar in 1993. In light of the current economic crisis in Cuba, could you describe the steps being taken to spur stronger development?

H.E.E.C.R: In the early 1990s, the Cuban economy did indeed experience a very difficult crisis, sparked by the rupture of our highly beneficial economic relations with Socialist countries.
Every economic sector was hit, as Cuban GDP plummeted 35%. By 1993 our trade figures had fallen 77%, compared to 1989. It must also be remembered that Cuba does not receive any assistance whatsoever from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). All of Cuba’s external loans are short-term loans at very high interest rates, with very short repayment schedules.
At the time, the Cuban government launched a series of economic reforms designed to reflate the economy and foster better integration within the world economy. The impressive results we have posted in recent years speak for themselves, confirming the success of these measures.
In 2003, Cuban GDP grew 2.6%. From 1994 to 2003, the average annual growth rate was 3.7%, the highest figure posted in any Latin American country during this period.
We are still below the boom levels of the late 1980s. But looking at the overall picture, we have already improved the results in certain sectors, while managing to safeguard public health and education.
Tourism is playing a key role in the drive to turn around the Cuban economy. It is now our most dynamic economic sector, and is having a beneficial effect on many other sectors as well. Tourism revenues serve as a credit source for other sectors, and are often used as a guarantee in obtaining external loans. In 2003, the number of tourists visiting Cuba rose 13% over the previous year. Nearly 145,000 French packed their bags for our island, up 11%  over the previous year.
Over the past ten years, our base industries have attracted 2,400 million euros in investments. They targeted petroleum extraction, the expansion of the electric industry, nickel and cobalt mining, and the cement and pharmaceutical industries. Cuba also plans to start looking for oil in its Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone. Several areas are already being prospected. Cuba is the world’s 4th nickel producer, and supplies 10% of global cobalt production. Our country has strengthened its position as one of the world’s top three nickel and cobalt reserves.
France has played a key role in the renovation of the country’s thermoelectric plants. Several remodeling projects have been carried out with loans obtained thanks to COFACE guarantees. 
We have begun to restructure the sugar sector, with the aim of cutting currency expenditures to produce sugar, consolidating sugar production in refineries and on the most productive lands, and diversifying sugar byproducts.
Since 1993, we have seen an upturn in foreign trade activities. Cuba’s improved trade balance has allowed us to focus on spurring and expanding exports, and replacing imported products with nationally produced ones.
We have been forging ahead in the scientific arena since the earliest years of the Cuban Revolution, and have continued to make tremendous progress. A great number of Cuban doctors have earned advanced degrees in France. Research projects have produced very concrete results, leading to the export of services, medicine, and vaccines. These efforts have been met with wide international praise. Finally, let me underscore that our human capital is, without a doubt, our country’s greatest asset. Firmly convinced of this, our government sets aside significant resources for setting up schools, purchasing computers, and producing television programs aimed at children in primary and middle school. A project that will set up higher education programs in all of Cuba’s cities is currently underway. We also have a general training program for young people who are not studying or working, providing them income support while they attend the program.

T.D.L.: Both Mexico and Brazil have recently taken steps to rekindle cooperation with your country. Do you see Cuba strengthening its ties with the countries of Latin America in the future?

H.E.E.C.R: Our relations with Latin American are a top priority for Cuba. We are linked by strong bonds of friendship, founded on a shared history and culture, as well as human and ethical values. We believe that Latin American unity is a historical imperative, in order to overcome the challenges and dangers hanging over our people’s heads, such as the United States’ efforts to impose a new instrument of colonization upon us, known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). After the flat-out failure of neoliberalism – with Argentina as the clearest example – the tide now favors the real interests of Latin American nations, Cuba among them.

T.D.L.: Your country has committed itself to actively fighting terrorism. Could you tell our readers how Cuba is tackling the problem of international terrorism, and the related problem of organized crime? How do you account for Washington’s insistence on including Cuba on its list of States that support terrorism?

H.E.E.C.R: Cuba was, one of the first countries to condemn the criminal September 11th attacks, even though it has suffered from terrorist activities by the United States for over four decades. We are party to all the United Nations antiterrorism instruments. We have confirmed, time and time again, our willingness to cooperate with the international community to wipe out this criminal plague. The United States, however, has responded by including Cuba on its list of countries that support and encourage terrorism. This irresponsible attitude is further confirmation of the current U.S. administration’s aggressive designs on Cuba.

T.D.L.: In June 2003, the European Union took a new stand on Cuba. Bilateral cooperation programs between Cuba and EU member countries, France included, have since been cut off. What are your thoughts on the recent cooling in Cuba-EU relations? Can the ties between your country and Europe  be maintained through other avenues?

H.E.E.C.R: On June 5th, 2003, the European Union announced it was taking numerous sanctions against Cuba. They included cutting back cultural ties, suspending several cooperation programs, and inviting contra-revolutionaries to the national days celebrations of EU member States. Why is Cuba being punished? For having enforced its national laws as concerns Cuban citizens accused of working for a foreign power, a power that has inflicted a criminal embargo on us for over four decades, and continues to openly and constantly declare its desire to destroy the Cuban Revolution. And yet these very same countries were unable to reach a consensus and condemn – or even criticize – the U.S. military aggression against Iraq. And now this war has killed thousands of people, destroying and destabilizing Iraq. It has violated international law as well as United Nations principles and objectives, and has been waged against the wishes of the majority of the world’s peoples. Why such hypocrisy? Why this double standard? Cuba lays great importance on its strategic ties with EU countries. We are united by a shared history, and shared values. This is why – despite the failure of European governments to rectify these unjust, exaggerated and incomprehensible actions – we are still working hard to preserve and expand our ties with Europe. We are focusing on the cultural and non-governmental arenas, working with businessmen, union organizations, solidarity movements, and, on a broader level, with the people of Europe.

T.D.L.: Cigars and salsa, the universal symbols of Cuban culture, along with Cuban films and literature, figure prominently in France’s image of Latin America. How do you explain Cuban culture’s great appeal for the French? Is French culture similarly admired in Cuba?

H.E.E.C.R: The French find Cuban culture appealing, first and foremost, because of the quality of our cultural achievements, the professionalism of our creators, and the manner in which Cuban culture reaffirms our national values of humanism and universalism. These values are very important to the French people, who can fully appreciate them and are very demanding in their artistic tastes.
Cuba has  a very rich and diverse culture, which cannot be reduced to broad summaries or clichés. The wide diversity of Cuban culture has piqued the cultural curiosity of the French public, which appreciates the chance it offers to constantly discover something new.
French culture, for its part, has played a prominent role in Cuba. It is a keenly felt presence that has made an unquestionable contribution to the development of our national culture. France’s ideology of liberty and equality has had a strong impact on our culture’s libertarian spirit, embodied by the figure of Jose Marti, a great admirer of Victor Hugo and the great French thinkers of the renowned French magazine «L’Illustration.» French culture has made myriad contributions to Cuban art and literature as well. Our countries are also united by numerous historical ties: the first Director of Cuba’s School of Plastic Arts (1818) was French; one of Cuba’s most renowned 20th-century painters, Wifredo Lam, as well as one of our greatest writers, Alejo Carpentier, both produced part of their works in France; several French communities chose Cuba to set up their coffee plantations, which are now World Heritage sites; the Cuban quadrille was inspired by its French counterpart, etc.

T.D.L.: As the founder of the “Club des Ambassadeurs Amateurs de Habanos,” are you pleased with the success of this friendship-building initiative, which encourages greater cultural awareness and the exchange of ideas?

H.E.E.C.R: The Club des Ambassadeurs Amateurs de Habanos was created in December 2000. It now counts some 75 Ambassadors as regular members, along with 30 honorary members and over 200 “club friends.” The Club has taken part in all kinds of different activities. Dinners have been hosted in our honor by the presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate. Prestigious French firms have held receptions for us. We visited the Principality of Monaco, and have done many other activities. The Club has  built up a very solid base, enabling us from the outset to meet our primary goal: creating a place where ambassadors representing greatly differing cultures and different political tendencies could come together, along with their French friends, in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. This informal gathering has helped to strengthen relations and personal ties, greatly advancing our efforts to encourage greater friendship between the world’s peoples and countries. With that in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow ambassadors and my French friends, whose constant goodwill and active participation have helped to make my project such a success. On behalf of the Club’s board, and all its members, I would like to pay special thanks to all our sponsors, particularly to our corporate sponsors COPROVA, ALTADIS, PERNOD RICARD, SUCDEN, LOUIS VUITTON, LVMH and INTERPRAL. 

T.D.L.: As your time in Paris draws to a close, how would you assess the five years you’ve spent promoting stronger Cuban-French relations? What areas should the two countries focus on now, to help build better mutual understanding and strengthen bilateral ties?

H.E.E.C.R: My mission here will, indeed, come to an close at the beginning of next July. Six years have elapsed since I presented President Jacques Chirac my credentials as the Ambassador of Cuba to France. My experience in Paris will be one of the fondest memories of my diplomatic career. It is true that official Franco-Cuban ties hit a low point last year, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. I have, all the same, seen considerable headway in bilateral ties, virtually all across the board. The French business community in Cuba is considerably larger now than when I first arrived in France. Our cultural ties have been expanded, while the solidarity movement has steadily picked up momentum. French tourism continues to grow at a very satisfying pace, and will hopefully climb to over 150,000 visitors this year. These successes would never have been possible without the encouragement and support of all our French friends, to whom I owe an eternal debt of gratitude and whom I will never forget. My years in Paris have enabled me to broaden my knowledge of the history and rich culture of the French people, including their humanitarian values and strong commitment to the principles of equality, solidarity and social justice. For all these reasons, France will always hold a very special place in my heart. This is why I keenly hope that the European Union will succeed in adopting an independent policy toward Cuba, amending the measures it took in June 2003 and normalizing official bilateral relations, to the benefit of both our peoples.
You can rest assured that I will continue working to that end, wherever I may be.

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