4 March 2010 Edition
No sign that Obama will lift Cuban blockade
The Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, Teresita Trujillo, who is currently serving her second term as her country’s representative in Dublin, spoke to An Phoblacht’s NIALL CONNOLLY this week on the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
AN PHOBLACHT: Some-times Cuba is portrayed in the media as isolated. How true is that perception?
Teresita Trujillo: Cuba is far from being isolated; the U.S. policy on Cuba is isolated. Cuba has diplomatic relations with 182 countries and has 148 diplomatic missions in 120 countries. Last year, 41 Heads of State or Government and 78 Ministers of Foreign Affairs visited Cuba.
We are fully integrated into Latin America’s regional organisations, such as the Rio Group and the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific Group, among others, and Cuba is a founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of America, which has just marked its fifth anniversary and is developing as a real platform for integrating the peoples of our region.
Cuba also has a very broad overseas co-operation programme, with over 41,000 volunteers working in various programmes and projects in 97 countries, most of them in the area of health.
Such was the case in Haiti, when the earthquake destroyed that country and our medical staff were the first to reach the victims.
Also, Cuba counts on the support of a very strong international solidarity movement, composed of friendship associations, trade union groups and friends from all walks of life who share with us the passion in the building of a better future for all.
Ireland and Cuba established diplomatic relations ten years ago. How have those relations evolved?
Last October 31st was the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, which had been united before by many similarities in our history and by a mutual sympathy and understanding.
In these years we have been able to develop those links even further, and today there is co-operation and exchanges in many areas, such as the parliament, the political parties, the trade unions. There are exchanges and projects in the areas of health and culture, and trade and tourism have also grown.
The solidarity movement in Ireland has been a vital element in the process of bringing our two peoples closer, promoting a better understanding of each other and supporting the cause of the Cuban people at difficult times.
The visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mícheál Martin, to Cuba last year was a significant step in the mutual desire to expand bilateral relations and was highly appreciated by the Cuban government and people.
The Cuban Revolution has just turned 51. What are the main challenges ahead?
We Cubans are very proud of the huge achievements of the last 51 years of Revolution, which have impacted on every aspect of life, from health, education, secure employment and housing to the dignity and pride as citizens who have chosen their own social and political system and are determined to defend their sovereignty, their independence and their right to self determination.
I will just mention two examples, taken from international statistics, which illustrate that. Cuba ranks 51 among the high development index countries, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2009, which places my country well above some members of the European Union as well as other countries with a much higher economic development, and last year, the infant mortality rate in Cuba was 4.8 per thousand births, the second best in all our history.
When assessing all those gains, we have to bear in mind that is has all been done in the context of the U.S. economic, financial and trade blockade and its extraterritorial effects, which is undoubtedly the main single challenge Cuba faces today.
We must also bear in mind that Cuba is part of the international community and as such is also affected by global problems, like climate change and the international economic crisis, as a result of which economic growth was lower than estimated and it was more difficult for the country to access international credits, all this in the midst of the process of recovery from the devastating damage caused by the three hurricanes that hit the island in 2008.
In economic terms, the Cuban National Assembly adopted the budget for 2010, with a deficit of 3.5% of GDP, which allows the stability of public finances, and also agreed to direct investments to those areas of the economy that will boost exports and reduce imports, thus allowing the development of the necessary productive base for the sustainability of our socialism.
The recent measures introduced in our agricultural sector have resulted in an increase of food production, which needs to continue growing. As part of those efforts, 920,000 hectares of land have been leased to over 100,000 people.
All these priorities have been decided without disregarding the social areas, which were the main beneficiaries of the massive investment that took place in the last few years as a result of the recovery of the economy from the difficult period of the previous decade.
Cuba is adapting its economic model to the current historical conditions, both domestic and international, and is doing so with a comprehensive approach, taking the time that is deemed necessary, leaving no space to improvisation and rush, because it is imperative to walk into the future with firm and secure steps because, as our President has recently stated, we simply do not have the right to make mistakes.
You mentioned the U.S. blockade. There were expectations of change under the current U.S. Administration. Has Barack Obama taken any steps to dismantle the blockade or to improve relations with Cuba?
The U.S. blockade remains intact, one year into Obama’s presidency. The few steps taken last September by the Administration relate to electoral promises easing the restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba that were imposed on Cuban citizens living in the U.S. during the Bush Administration.
While welcoming those steps, I must say that they are insufficient and do not address the main issue, which is the blockade. The new Administration has reiterated on various occasions its intention to continue enforcing the blockade. U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden, at the Summit of Progressive Leaders, held in Chile last March, stated that “the U.S. will maintain the embargo as a tool to apply pressure on Cuba”.
Last October, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the lifting of the blockade. 189 of the 192 member countries voted in favour of the resolution, but the U.S. continues to defy international public opinion.
There are other areas in which the U.S. has shown there is no political will to improve relations with Cuba, such as the recent inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries the U.S. says are “sponsors of terrorism”, whose citizens will have to undergo additional security measures when flying to the U.S. from any airport in the world.
All the instruments of the aggressive policy of the U.S. against Cuba remain in place and the current Administration is not giving up on its intent to destroy the Cuban Revolution. We have seen an increase in open and covert subversion against Cuba and encouragement on their part and some of their allies, to antipatriotic Cubans on their payroll to increase provocations.
It is quite clear that one of their aims at present is to boycott the ongoing process of normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba.
Cuba has reiterated on countless occasions its sincere willingness to solve once and for all the conflict with the U.S., on the basis of a comprehensive dialogue between equals, with full respect for our independence, our sovereignty and our right to self determination.
There are other issues souring relations between the U.S. and Cuba, such as Guantánamo Naval Base and the five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S. What is your position on those?
Today there are two separate issues regarding Guantánamo. One relates to the torture centre established there under the pretext of the fight on terror, which has served as an excuse to perpetrate horrendous crimes against people who for too long have remained in a legal limbo. Cuba has repeatedly condemned those practices and called for an investigation on the matter and for the closure of the camp. The other issue is the right of Cuba to exercise sovereignty on that part of its national territory. The solution to the return of Guantánamo to Cuba has to be part of a negotiated settlement.
The case of the Cuban 5, as they are internationally known, is a clear example of a politically inspired miscarriage of justice. They are political prisoners, they are innocent, the charges against them could not be proved by the prosecution, the jury in the trial was subjected to intimidation, and their rights as prisoners have been violated as well as those of their relatives, in spite of the ruling of UN bodies.
The level of international solidarity and the support they enjoy is absolutely unprecedented. The U.S. Supreme Court received 11 Amicus Briefs on behalf of Nobel Laureates, lawyers, member of different national parliaments and the European Parliament, and former Heads of State, including one from former Irish President and former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. However, their case was not taken up by the Court.
Instead, three of them were re-sentenced by the same judge who refused them the legitimate right of a change of venue and who sentenced them with the maximum possible sentences.
The international solidarity movement fighting for their release is calling on President Obama to show his real will for change by setting them free. Their cause has received strong support from Ireland and we are asking supporters and honest people in this country to increase their actions, to raise their voices and demand that President Obama takes that step of goodwill and bravery that will be in tune with the expectations of the many honest Americans who voted for him and of those beyond U.S. borders in hope of a much needed change in U.S. politics at home and abroad.
Revolutionary leader : Camilo Cienfuegos and Fidel Castro entering Havana, 8 January 1959