No policy change despite breakthrough with U.S.: Cuban envoy

August 31, 2015

TEHRAN – The Cuban ambassador to Tehran says his country’s foreign policy will remain unchanged despite the fact the ice between Havana and Washington has started melting.

“It is necessary to emphasize that in the process of rapprochement with the U.S., Cuba has not made any concessions and its foreign policy will remain strengthened,” Vladimir A. Gonzalez Quesada tells the Tehran Times.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: The reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington has been described as a historic move. What prompted Washington and Havana to moderate their approaches toward each other and take such a giant step?

A: Indeed, the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Embassy of Cuba in Washington is an historic event, as our diplomatic relations remained disrupted for over 50 years, a period characterized in general by the aggression and hostility of U.S. administrations against our country.

The current U.S. administration realized the need to adapt its policy towards Cuba and President Barack Obama was brave taking the step to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, as he didn’t have full support of Congress and Senate, although he did have broad support of the American society and even the Cuban-American community. However, this doesn’t mean that the U.S. authorities have changed their aims and interests regarding Cuba, because what they are doing is changing the strategy to achieve them.

For its part, the Cuban government has seen in this step the opportunity to improve relations between the two neighboring countries, which can have exchanges in different spheres in a civilized manner, despite prevailing differences in positions on several issues, as this will benefit both nations.

It should be noted that two stages have been defined in this process of mutual rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. The first one is the reestablishment of diplomatic relations itself, on the basis of strict compliance of the Vienna Convention. This step was officially announced since December 17, 2014 and was completed on July 20, 2015, with the reopening of their respective embassies in Washington and Havana.

The second stage is the normalization of relations, this will be longer and more complex, as to conclude it significant obstacles have to be overcome, such as the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba for more than five decades; the just compensation for the huge human and material damage caused by this blockade; the return of the territory usurped by the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo; and disruption of the illegal radio and television made against Cuba from U.S. territory.

Q: Some argue that these political developments in relations between Cuba and the U.S. are evidence that the policy of isolating Cuba has failed. What do you think?

A: I certainly think that the policy of isolating Cuba has failed; demonstrated by the fact that our country now has relations with 190 nations -counting the newly reestablished with USA- of the 192 members of United Nations (UN).

In the specific case of Latin America, where many governments and progressive movements have arisen, we have relationships with 33 countries and the vast majority of them have spoken out in favor of improving bilateral ties between Cuba and the U.S. through the various regional mechanisms such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America-Treaty of Commerce of the People (ALBA-TCP).

Therefore, we can say that the policy of the U.S. government towards our country is the one isolated and hence they have realized the need to adapt and re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.

It is necessary to emphasize that in the process of rapprochement with the U.S., Cuba has not made any concessions and its foreign policy will remain strengthened by the basic principles of the international law: respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the States; self-determination of peoples; equality of States and peoples; rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other States; right to international cooperation for the mutual and equitable benefit and interest; peaceful relations between States, and other precepts signed in the United Nations Charter.

Cuba condemns all hegemonic, interventionist and discriminatory practices in international relations and the threat or use of force, unilateral coercive measures, aggression and all forms of terrorism, including terrorism of State.

Q: What is the position of Fidel Castro on the new developments in Cuba?

A: He has said that he has no confidence in the United States but respects the decision of the Cuban government. It is logical. Historically, he was and still is the leader of the revolution despite being away from the political life. To me this is a very smart answer. He maintained his principle but at the same time he didn’t interfere with any political decision in the Cuban government.

Q: Countries, especially Latin Americans, have welcomed the warming of ties between the two neighbors. What does this suggest?

A: The fact that many countries, particularly in Latin America, have welcomed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. denotes recognition to Cuba’s rightful place in the continent and to the long struggle of its people to preserve its independence, sovereignty and dignity. In return, our country has maintained and will maintain its solidarity and cooperation with all the countries of Latin America and the world that so wish.

Q: What is the public view toward the breakthrough in ties with the U.S.?

A: I believe that the view on the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. is very positive overall. In fact many countries, governments, authorities and personalities have celebrated the event, as Pope Francisco, who contributed modestly but decisively to this historic event and he will pay an official visit to our country and then the U.S. next September.

Q: Can Cuba and Iran see an exchange of visits by senior officials in future?

A: The last two visits to Iran of senior Cuban officials were the visit of Vice President of the Council of Ministers, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, in August 2013, invited to attend the official swearing ceremony of President Hassan Rohani; and previously, in 2009, the visit of the then Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernandez, now president of the National Assembly of People's Power (Parliament), who attended on behalf of President Raul Castro Ruz in the International Conference against Terrorism, held in Tehran. Also, in recent years there have been other visits by Cuban officials at different levels, with the aim of contributing to the strengthening of bilateral relations in different spheres.

In return, visits of high prominent Iranian authorities to Havana were also conducted: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his deputy Ali Saiedlu in 2012 in two occasions.

The current Iranian government has expressed its willingness to receive a visit from the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raul Castro Ruz, and the President of the Parliament, Esteban Lazo Hernandez, which would be completed depending on their busy work schedules.

For its part, the Cuban government would welcome a visit by President Hassan Rohani to Havana, perhaps as part of a Latin America tour and in compliance with its commitment to maintain close relations between the Persian nation and our continent.

Q: Although Iran and Cuba share common views on various issues, we don’t see much cooperation between the two countries. Could you elaborate on possible areas of economic and technical collaboration which have not been tapped so far?

A: In the 90s and early this century, Cuba and Iran maintained active cooperation which had its highest expression in technology transfer we made to the Persian nation in the biotechnology field. However, at present our economic and trade relations are stalled -among other causes- because of the blockade imposed extraterritorially by the U.S. against Cuba and the international sanctions imposed against Iran for more than a decade, with the justification of the convenience or not of its nuclear program.

Nuclear Agreement between the G5+1 and Iran, which implies the progressive lifting of international sanctions, was recently signed, and diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. were reestablished. This would create a favorable climate for multilateral exchanges. In turn, these events could establish new and better conditions to revive economic and trade links between the Island and the Persian nation.