By Carlos Fernández de Cossío
In this article: Blockade, Blockade against Cuba, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba, Politics, Foreign Policy, United States, Cuba-U.S. Relations, Cuba-U.S. Relations
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister. Photo: Cubaminrex.
Speech by the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Dr.C. Carlos Fernández de Cossío, during the twentieth edition of Conversations Cuba in the Foreign Policy of the United States of America, which is being held at the Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI).
Ambassador Rogelio Sierra, rector of ISRI, thank you for hosting us; Doctor of Science José Ramón Cabañas, ambassador and director of CIPI; dear friends and participants:
On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in this event and to listen and learn from the deliberations.
I am also grateful for the opportunity to share the Ministry’s vision, particularly that of the U.S. Directorate General, in a forum that has a well-earned authority as a venue for academic and intellectual deliberation and analysis on Cuba-U.S. relations.
The theme selected for this year is: “U.S.-Cuba Relations in a New Global Scenario”.What I propose to do is to share our vision on the bilateral scenario in the year that is coming to an end.
The global scenario has certainly changed. The conflict in Europe has posed a new challenge for the international community. The tendency to try to divide the world in two, something Cuba warned about some years ago, seems to be gaining strength.
Important political changes have taken place in our region, which we assume with enthusiasm. Meanwhile, we continue to observe the persistent tendency to destabilize legitimate governments with the active participation of the OAS.
The scenario that has not experienced truly perceptible changes is that which characterizes relations between Cuba and the US.
We recognize that bilateral steps have been taken this year. Both governments have taken steps in that direction. These are not unilateral actions by one of the parties. I am going to refer to some of those steps that have taken place this year.
First, I am going to refer to migratory cooperation. It is natural that this is an area that carries weight since bilateral agreements have been in place for several decades. These are agreements that require review, updating and revision of how they are implemented. When I say review, I do not mean changing them, but examining them and having bilateral discussions on the occasion of those agreements.
But more important than that is that there is an irregular migratory phenomenon that affects both countries and this requires dialogue, communication and cooperation. Unfortunately, since a round of talks that took place in 2018, exchanges on migration between the two countries had been suspended, and there have been significant breaches of the agreements.
We had two talks this year: one in April, in Washington, D.C., and one in November, in Havana. They were productive talks in the sense that we confirmed the validity and importance of the agreements; we ratified the mutual political commitment to the fulfillment of the agreements; we identified areas that require greater attention, and we had the opportunity to analyze issues that are not properly reflected in the agreements, but have a great influence on the irregular migratory flow. There were no new agreements, nor did we have a total coincidence in what we discussed, but they were conversations that both parties identified as productive.
Also on the migration issue, in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, the U.S. government fulfilled for the first time since 2017 the commitment to grant 20,000 visas annually. This is something that had been unfulfilled since 2017. Most of those visas were granted and delivered in Guyana, but some began to be processed and delivered in Havana.
Already the U.S. Government announced that, in the first days of January, the totality of those services will return to its embassy in Havana.
In addition, we have had exchanges of experts on false documentation, for example. There have also been operational exchanges between the Cuban Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard, in what has been a particularly difficult year in terms of irregular departures by sea. Cooperation has been maintained between both services for the interception on the high seas and the return to Cuba of those who are intercepted.
This year, we have already agreed to hold talks on law enforcement and compliance. There have also been exchanges on cooperation in dealing with oil spills, on health and there will be others on the environment.
This year, on the occasion of two disasters suffered by our country, there was an offer of humanitarian aid from the U.S. Government, without political conditions, which Cuba thanked and accepted. In the first case, it was on the occasion of the fire at the supertanker base in Matanzas: the U.S. Government immediately offered technical assistance and this led to telephone communications with regard to the fight against the fire. Later on, it offered material aid and Cuba was able to communicate what our priorities were in this regard. The U.S. Government finally offered 100 suits with protective equipment for firefighters, which will soon be delivered to the Cuban authorities.
On the occasion of Hurricane Ian in the province of Pinar del Río, the U.S. Government also offered material aid in the amount of two million dollars for the repair of roofs and houses, which should begin to arrive in January. In both cases, this aid was offered without political conditionalities and was gratefully accepted.
There has also been a greater degree of dialogue this year between the State Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies. These are all mutual steps of a bilateral nature that are of some importance and cannot be ignored.
But there are also developments in the opposite direction. For example, how can we explain the recent designation of Cuba as a country of special concern regarding religious freedom? It is a designation made without any real basis, with arguments that are dishonest, which is not unusual. One may ask: who do they want to please?
It can no longer be said, as we are sometimes alleged, that it is a question of political pressures in an election year since the elections are over. It has already been demonstrated that pretending to compete with the Republicans in the aggressiveness towards Cuba did not even win the Democrats a single vote in Florida. It is an action that one cannot explain what political motivation it has.
In May, the U.S. Government announced a group of measures. They were announced with what in the United States they call hype, a lot of fanfare. It is worthwhile to dwell on the measures announced.
The first of them is the commitment to allow again remittances to Cuba. That was in May and there is still no regular flow of remittances to Cuba. Secondly, is that the announcement was made without any commitment to dismantle the measures announced by the Trump administration to disrupt remittances. Thirdly, if there is to be a flow of remittances in the near future greater than what exists today, it will be due more to steps taken by Cuba than to actions taken by the U.S. government.
Another of the measures announced was to boost Internet penetration and interconnection in Cuba. We are forced to ask ourselves what is the coherence of this announcement when, by a decision of the U.S. Government, access to more than 200 private commercial websites is prohibited for Cubans. I am not referring to government websites, but private ones; among them, about 20 belong to Google. This refers to sites in the area of education, science and technology, health, art, culture and innovation.
What is the consistency of the Government when it announces that it is committed to the promotion of the Internet and at the same time prohibits by Government regulation that Cubans have access to these sites?
A few weeks ago it was announced that a U.S. Government Advisory Committee recommended rejecting a commercial operation that would connect a submarine Internet cable to Cuba. This forces us once again to ask ourselves what is the consistency of the U.S. Government when it announces its commitment to promote the Internet and at the same time cuts off Cuba’s access to the Internet.
It is possible that it is the same consistency that the U.S. Government has when it proclaims that its priority with respect to Cuba is the promotion of human rights and the well-being of the Cuban people.
Another of the measures announced was the possibility of commercial flights from the United States to different Cuban provinces. This has been fulfilled.
The measure of providing more facilities for travel in groups has also been fulfilled. Individual travel is still prohibited.
Another of the measures announced was to take actions to help the emerging private sector, which is one of the most inconsistent measures for several reasons.
In the first place, the existence of the economic blockade has a negative impact in absolute terms on any sector of the Cuban economy. The U.S. government may propose to establish exceptions, but that private entrepreneur is still going to encounter the effects of the blockade in his daily life. That is one inconsistency.
There is a second inconsistency: the promotion of the private or non-state sector in Cuba is part of the development of the Cuban economy. It began to be conceived some 12 years ago. We delayed in its design, implementation, and regulation, but it is our promotion.
However, the United States Government, and it does not hide saying it, intends to promote the private sector, not to help the development of the Cuban economy, not to improve the standard of living of the population, not to help a majority sector of the population, but it identifies it as an instrument of political subversion.
They dream of using it to erode the public sector, the Cuban State, and the public administration, on which education, health, citizen security, electricity and water services, the guarantee of social justice and the overcoming of economic and social differences depend. He makes no secret of his ambition to use this sector as a political weapon.
If exceptions to the blockade are introduced, with the dream of undermining the revolution, we will not oppose [them]. We are not going to oppose [them]. If this allows for greater prosperity of any sector of the Cuban economy, we are not going to put obstacles in its way. If it manages to devise exceptions that benefit some and continue to punish others, we will not try to prevent it either. But they are making a major mistake in political terms in trying to promote the private sector as a weapon to undermine the nature of Cuban society.
These actions announced in May are very limited, but as we said at the time, we do identify them in a positive direction, even if they are inconsistent in many cases. There is no doubt that they and the areas of cooperation I mentioned are a contrast to the last two years of the Trump administration and to 2021. This is part of what describes the bilateral relationship.
But to describe it seriously and objectively, in our opinion, we have to pay attention to two fundamental issues. In the first place: which are the areas to which the U.S. Government devotes more human resources, financial resources, and more working hours.
If one takes into account the number of officials working in the Treasury Department who are dedicated to enforcing the economic blockade, the number of US diplomats in many parts of the world who are dedicated to pursuing each and every one of Cuba’s financial transactions, the number of pronouncements made in the US Congress.
If one takes into account the impact on the Cuban economy and Cuban society, which is the second factor, on the daily life of each and every Cuban, the impact on Cuba’s relations with third countries, there can also be no doubt that the economic blockade continues to be the central and defining factor of the bilateral relationship, seconded -taking into account these factors- by political subversion, to which tens of millions of US taxpayer dollars are devoted every year. A government’s budget is supposed to reflect the government’s priorities.
On the basis of that analysis, of the application of the blockade and its impact today, it can be said with sufficient confidence that the current US government, that of Joseph Biden, is the one that has applied the blockade most aggressively and effectively of all those that the Cuban Revolution has known. It is the one that punishes the most, the one that harms the daily life of Cubans and the economy as a whole the most. Here I include all the Administrations since Eisenhower to date. That is what characterizes today the United States Government and its current policy towards Cuba. I insist the one that most aggressively and effectively applies the economic blockade.
Some will take this as a historical merit. In practice, he is applying with absolute and surprising loyalty, not only the blockade as it existed before but the policy of maximum economic pressure that was designed by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
One has reason to wonder what the president of the United States could have done or what he can do to fulfill, not only what he promised his constituents in 2020, but also to fulfill his stated priority of promoting human rights and caring for the welfare of the Cuban people.
The president, since taking over the White House, could have removed Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List. At the time it was taken, that measure had not even taken effect yet, since the days defined by law had not elapsed.
As soon as it was announced by the Trump administration, there was immediately a letter from several prominent U.S. congressmen, Democrats, questioning the decision. The U.S. Government knows the impact of this measure, it cannot be claimed to ignore it. A few weeks after the designation, 45 banks and financial institutions that had a long-standing relationship with Cuba severed their ties with our country.
This has an impact on our trade, on our possibilities of obtaining credits, on the ways to make payments. It is a devastating impact. And even today, by virtue of its presence on that list, Cuba is still encountering commercial and financial organizations that refuse to interact with it for fear of reprisals from the U.S. Government.
The U.S. Government knows that the arguments used were dishonest. The main argument was even already denounced by the current Colombian Government, but that does not seem to move a Government whose priority, apparently, is the welfare of the Cuban people.
The list to which Cuba does belong is the U.S. List of Terrorist Victims, which is not a short list, by the way.
The U.S. President may also have suspended the possibility of action in U.S. courts on claims brought under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. This has a deterrent impact on our development purpose of attracting foreign capital.
This Government could have ceased the practice of pressuring African, Asian and Latin American governments to refuse medical cooperation from Cuba. I am referring to the pressures exerted two or three weeks ago, from governments telling us that “we have received a visit either from an envoy or from the US embassy, warning us that if we receive Cuban doctors, we will be engaging in slavery and human trafficking practices”.
This U.S. action, of course, seeks to prevent medical services for tens of thousands of people, which is what Cuban doctors do. It is known that in countries that are more developed than Cuba, or wealthier than Cuba, Cuba receives financial compensation for those services. This is totally legitimate, in accordance with United Nations resolutions on South-South cooperation and pronouncements by the G-77 and the NAM.
The objective is to discredit the Cuban Revolution and deprive Cuba of financial resources, necessary for the economy, for development. This is not consistent with a concern for the well-being of Cubans.
The U.S. president could have also done, and has not done, to put an end to punitive measures, threats and persecution of fuel exporting companies, transportation companies, port agencies, insurance and reinsurance agencies; all aimed at depriving Cuba of fuel supplies that our country requires to function.
Since mid-2019, this has had an extremely severe impact on the economy and the life of Cubans, not only because we have had to stop industries, reduce transportation, and have affected electricity services, but we are forced to pay premiums for the fuel we import on account of the risk assumed by whoever sells us oil or whoever transports it.
With this impact, explain to the Cuban population that the U.S. Government has the welfare of the Cuban people in mind.
The U.S. Government was able to abolish an absolutely arbitrary list of restricted entities, formed with dishonest arguments and with total superficiality. In some cases, they took Trip Advisor as a reference and saw the most popular places for U.S. visitors, and put them on the list. So, some of us here are banned from going to the Rum Museum, for example.
All these measures are aimed at cutting off the sources of income of the Cuban economy. That is how they were designed by the predecessor government and that is how they are applied, to deprive us of energy sources, of access to technology and to deprive us of attracting the capital required for the country’s development.
They all bear the fingerprint of Donald Trump and his administration. All of them were established with dishonest arguments that the current government no longer even takes the trouble to deny.
We know that the U.S. Government and some Americans do not like to hear about the economic blockade. Some present it as something in bad taste, as something old-fashioned or something anachronistic or something that does not contribute to dialogue.
But if you live here, how can you not talk about the blockade? Those who work every day to promote bilateral relations with the United States, how can they not talk about the blockade? The officials who every week have to decide how to allocate the scarce resources that the economy has to solve the needs of the population, how can they not talk about the blockade and think about the blockade constantly?
We know that in the United States it is common that racists do not want to talk about racism. I believe that there are even bills for legislation against education on racism. Those who enforce the blockade do not want people to talk about the blockade, which has an impact on everything: on the electrical service, on the availability of medicines and materials for medical services; on the ability to obtain inputs for food production; on transportation; on production; including the production of construction materials.
The U.S. Government cannot claim that it is unaware of this impact and that its conduct influences this impact.
For months now, the narrative is being promoted that it is incumbent upon Cuba to offer gestures; that steps have been taken by the Biden administration that have not been reciprocated; as if Cuba is in debt; when it is known that there is no action taken by the Cuban Government against the US Government, against any US organization, against any US individual, against the welfare of anyone in the United States. However, this narrative persists and they even send us messengers with this idea.
The current deplorable state of bilateral relations is not Cuba’s responsibility.
Cuba has not missed a single one of the commitments it made between 2015 and 2016. The U.S. government has destroyed the relationship.
Today’s reality is the result of a design that was conceived with total frankness by the government of Donald Trump, who, at least, had the honesty to proclaim what he intended to do.
Our government has said and reiterated with sufficient clarity that we are willing to move towards a respectful and constructive relationship with the United States. This is Cuba’s position and anyone who follows the statements made by our government or anyone who follows the actions of the Cuban government can verify it.
In spite of the natural distrust that the conduct of the United States in the last five years may generate, there is no real argument capable of casting doubt on Cuba’s disposition. In practice, we have been demonstrating it with the steps that have been taken this year.
Nor, of course, should there be any doubt that we are approaching this progress on the basis of absolute respect for our sovereignty.
The United States Government cannot pretend to treat Cuba as if it were part of its territory, or treat Cuba as if it were a colonial dominion, or treat Cuba as if it were an adversary defeated in a war. We are none of the three.
Within the territory of the United States there are states, I will give, for example, the state of Mississippi, where poverty is close to 20%, where there is malnutrition estimated at 15% of the population, where there are practices that deprive people of the right to vote. No one in the United States can imagine that, by virtue of these realities, the Federal Government would decide to apply a system of coercive measures against the population of the State of Mississippi, cut off its electricity, cut off its financial relations with the rest of the American Union, prohibit it from trading and prohibit the rest of the Americans from traveling there. But even if the federal government were to do so, Mississippi is within the United States, within the sovereign prerogatives of the federal government. Much to the chagrin of some Americans, Cuba is outside the territory of the United States.
More than half of the population of Puerto Rico is said to be leaving the country, and the economy of this Latin American sister nation is bankrupt. If the United States applies an economic blockade, it would be a crime and Puerto Rico is a colonial possession of the United States.
If the United States had applied an economic blockade against the German population after World War II, it would have been interpreted as a crime against the people of the country that was a defeated adversary in the war.
Cuba is none of the three. It is not within the United States, it is not a colony of the United States, and it is not an adversary that the United States has defeated.
This policy has no moral, legal and, of course, political explanation.
We are convinced that progress is beneficial for both countries and for both peoples. We are convinced that it is necessary. We are also convinced that it would be welcomed by the nations of the Americas and, furthermore, we are convinced that it is possible.
It requires, of course, political will and courage, as existed a few years ago.
Those conditions do not seem to exist today in the United States.
The bet, as President Díaz-Canel points out, continues to be to asphyxiate the Cuban economy, and to try to provoke social collapse and a political crisis in Cuba.
The United States has failed in that purpose, but it does not fail to cause enormous damage and makes us pay a high cost that is reflected in the economic depression of the country and that is also reflected in the extraordinary flows of Cuban migrants.
No one could be surprised by these flows.
It is an established truth that the economic depression in any country or region, the depression of living conditions, are factors that promote migration and that adverse conditions in any country can drive migration, due to natural disasters, wars when there are wars, famines, social instability, there may be insufficient economic policies. That happens anywhere in the world. It happens in the United States where there are cities that had two million inhabitants and today have less than 700,000.
What is unique to Cuba, what is a particular characteristic of our country is that there is an extraordinary foreign force promoting economic depression and thus driving migratory flows. This is what experts call the “push” effect.
We have discussed this with the U.S. Government. They know our point of view and our argumentation in that sense.
As we have said on more than one occasion, we will continue to build bridges with the U.S. society in all possible fields and we will try to continue promoting the most constructive and respectful relationship possible with the U.S. Government.
We will also continue in our efforts to ensure our economic sustainability, even in the prospect that the economic blockade will last for many years to come.
I wish you success in your deliberations and may they contribute to the common understanding and to the purpose that I believe we all share of bringing our two nations closer together.
Thank you very much.