By Maryam Khormaei

Cuban ambassador: The U.S. strategy is to provoke disappointment through economic hardship

October 3, 2018 - 8:45

In an exclusive interview, Mr. Alexis Bandrich Vega Cuban ambassador to Iran discussed a host of issues with Tehran Times and Mehr News correspondent including the U.S. policy towards Cuba, the reason behind the popularity and even recent failure of some socialist governments as well as Tehran- Havana bilateral relations.

Q: As the interview focuses mainly on the international relations of Cuba, before going further, I want you to give our readers a better perspective on the regional characteristics of Latin America and the position of Cuba in the region.

A: Latin America refers to the regions of America where Latin languages are spoken, specifically Spanish, French and Portuguese. The region comprises more than 21 million km2 of surface area (13.5% of the planet's surface), and some 569 million inhabitants. It has a great geographical and biological diversity, practically all climates. It has some of the largest rivers in the world and important food, energy and mineral resources, including its oil, copper, lithium and silver deposits.

Cuba is an archipelago of the Caribbean Sea. Due to its geographical position at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, since colonial times it has been known as "The key of the Gulf". It is the largest island in the Greater Antilles. It has an area of almost 110 thousand km2 and 11.2 million inhabitants.

Cuba maintains relations with 197 countries and embassies in 124. Of its 120 ambassadors, 32% are women. It also has 140 consular offices and 158 Cuban Associations in 78 countries. In Cuba there are 113 foreign Embassies.

Q: Under Trump's administration, it is forbidden to do business with a long list of entities that allegedly have links with Cuban military, intelligence or security services. Meanwhile, the White House is relaxing some restrictions on exports to private Cuban businesses and embassies are still open, however vacant. What is behind this double standard approach?

A: I do not think there is a double standard. There is only one, clearly defined by the US government 58 years ago, and it maintains an absolute validity, it seemed to be said five minutes ago, I quote: "The majority of Cubans support Castro. There is no effective political opposition. The only possible means to annihilate internal support [to the regime] is to provoke disappointment and discouragement through economic dissatisfaction and hardship. We must weaken economic life (in Cuba). One measure that could have a very strong impact would be to deny all financing and deliveries to Cuba, which would reduce monetary income and real wages and provoke hunger, despair and the overthrow of the government"
During the Obama administration the blockade was maintained with a strong rigor, even set records in fines to international financial institutions for their relations with publicly owned banks or Cuban companies, for a value of almost 14 thousand 400 million USD, and continued to prevent to these the dollar use.
It is true that almost the few economic reliefs related to Cuba adopted by Obama were directed to the private sector, but most of this did not escape, nor escapes, the effects of the Blockade. The Blockade affects all of us. It is the most unjust, severe and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions that has been applied against any country, and I can assure you that it is the main obstacle to the development of the Cuban economy and the full enjoyment of all the human rights of all the Cuban people.
The adoption by President Trump of the "Presidential National Security Memorandum on Strengthening US Policy towards Cuba "(June 16, 2017), endorsed among its objectives the reinforcement of the blockade against the island and represented a serious setback to bilateral relations with Cuba. Subsequently, the regulations to which you refer (November 2017) of the Treasury, State and Commerce Departments, imposed additional obstacles to the limited opportunities of the North American business sector in Cuba and restricted the right of its citizens to travel to the Island. These measures not only affect the Cuban state economy, but also the non-state sector of the country.

The strengthening of the extraterritorial application of the blockade is another example of the hardening of this policy, with a marked impact on Cuba's international financial and credit relations. With Trump, the permanent persecution of Cuban financial transactions and our banking and credit operations on a global scale has continued, causing serious damage to our economy, in particular, to the commercial activities of Cuban companies and banks in their links with international banking. In 2018 dozens of banks in all regions of the world decided to close their relations with Cuban or foreign companies, to eliminate any link of their activity with Cuba, even operations with Cuban citizens just because they have that nationality.

The United States must end the blockade unilaterally and unconditionally.

In favor of the lifting of the blockade and the normalization of relations between the two countries, the majority support on behalf of the American public has been expressed, of the international community and of Cuban emigration in the USA. The empire has ignored it. On October 31, 2018, we will denounce the resurgence of this policy and we will present once again, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, the draft resolution entitled "Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the Government of the United States against Cuba ".  We will not renounce our principles nor will we stop claiming the total elimination of the blockade.

I would like to take advantage of your question to express Cuba's profound gratitude to the Iranian Government and people for demanding the cessation of this policy, which will never prevent us from defending our sovereignty and the right to freely choose our future.

Q: Some experts believe that by returning to the cold war policy, Trump lost the opportunity that brought a historic change in the leadership of Cuba. On the other hand, there are some experts who say that Obama's opening policy did not show any tangible results since close work with Venezuela continues and human rights concerns remain. What is your opinion on this matter? We go by part and I will organize the answer in chronological order.

A: Obama wrote a unique chapter in the history of Cuba - United States relations. In the new relationship that began in December 2014 between Havana and Washington, three of the five Cuban heroes who remained in US prisons returned to Cuba, Cuba was removed from the State Department's list of terrorist states, the practice of granting automatic residency to any Cuban emigrant who stepped on US soil were stopped, diplomatic relations were restored at the embassy level and 22 mutually beneficial agreements were signed in areas of common interest. The trips of US citizens to Cuba were authorized, although not to do tourism, within a people-to-people policy that seeks to influence Cubans but also transforms perceptions about Cuba into American society. In addition to the bilateral impact, there was an impact on US allies that decided then to rapprochement with Cuba.

In April 2016, Barack Obama visited Havana. His communication strategy insisted mainly on two objectives: Erase the idea of the United States as an adversary of the Cubans (in other words, erase our history) and emphasize internal causes as the source of the daily difficulties that Cubans face. Of all this he spoke without taking into account the blockade, much less the growing political, economic and military aggression of his administration against Venezuela, the country that had the largest trade with Cuba at that time, and declared it as an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to the national security of the US, increased the financial harassment (economic war), and increased its open support for the opposition violence that sought to take the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Obama elaborated on the changes his government wanted to see in Cuba, seeking to increase pressure from the bottom up.

In spite of everything, with new and old challenges, Venezuela and Cuba are still standing, and will be.

You talk about the change of the historical leadership of Cuba. I can tell you that if any feature distinguishes more the current President and Cuban government is continuity. President Miguel Díaz Canel said: Cuba "will not make concessions against its sovereignty and independence, will not negotiate principles, nor will it accept conditions. Our goal is to give continuity to the Revolution that began on January 1, 1959. I assume this responsibility with the conviction that every Cuban, from the position we occupy, will be faithful to the example of the historical leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, and his comrade Raul Castro. In times like these, Cuba expects us to be like the historical generation, who were able to fight all the battles".

That is, the election of a new President and a new Council of Ministers did not give Trump any opportunity other than the one he already had (and has). He has really wasted any opportunity, increasing the sanctions on Cuba, returning to a very aggressive, disrespectful, disqualifying rhetoric, with abundant falsehoods and a strong dose of ignorance.

At the end of your question you mentioned human rights. It could be a topic for another interview. I just want to remind you of what was expressed by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla before the UN General Assembly on November 1, 2017: "the USA, where flagrant violations of human rights are being committed, which arouse deep concern on the part of the international community, do not have the slightest moral authority to criticize Cuba, a small, solidary country with a wide and recognized international trajectory; a noble, hardworking and friendly people, that empire "is responsible for most of the wars being fought on the planet today, which kill innocents, and is the decisive factor of world instability and of grave threats to peace and international security, trampling on International Law and the Charter of the United Nations ».

Q: A few months ago it happened to me to speak with the ambassador of Nicaragua. We discussed a number of issues, including the current crisis in Nicaragua, the economic war against Venezuela and foreign fingerprints on all the turmoil in Latin America. Now here's the question: what is behind the obvious hostility of some countries against the leftist governments of Latin America?

A: I recommend reading the base document of the XXIV Meeting of the Forum of Sao Paulo held in Havana, Cuba from July 15 to 17 of this year. It addresses in a broad, detailed, critical and above all very self-critical, the current situation in Latin America, US policy towards it, the complicity of the neoliberal oligarchies, the problems of the left, etc.

Latin America and the Caribbean people live today, again, under the effects of a multifaceted counterrevolutionary offensive, the fruit of convergent interests and combined efforts between the world elites of transnational capitalism, the US government as its hegemonic nucleus, as well as the oligarchic fractions and the dependent bourgeoisies of our region, which suffer again the inequalities resulting from the restored neo-liberal policies. The political and social setbacks in some countries show this dramatically.

Undoubtedly, the current US administration has increased its interventionism in Latin America. I speak of a very dangerous interventionism, with a presence of 76 military bases, support for military and judicial coups, as well as persecutions against presidents and former presidents, attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, sanctions and economic blockades, the use of the discredited OAS against progressive governments, the cultural war, support for ultraconservative, neoliberal and corrupt figures. Efforts are perceived to encourage division and submission among Latin American governments, create alliances against progressive governments, demobilize politically the social and popular sectors and movements, promote the supposed non-viability of socialism or the application of social justice policies from the States, the strengthening of non-governmental initiatives, anti-systemic campaigns, the cooperation of judicial powers with organizations controlled by Washington to wage a selective and brutal war against the left in the region.
What is behind all this is to completely reverse the gains made by the popular governments and with anti-imperialist projections in the last decades, and to assure the imperial, domination, expansionist and predatory interests of the USA in our region.

Q: Despite the efforts of the United States to make the puppet states of Latin American countries, independent states such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua managed to survive. Even after a decade, we are witnessing the emergence of a leftist movement in Mexico. What are the reasons behind the popularity and, of course, the recent failure of some socialist governments?

A: The counterrevolutionary, imperialist and oligarchic offensive has done a great deal of damage to the forces of the left, which have not considered, have not known or have not been able to identify and resolve their own mistakes and inadequacies. The divisions in the popular field are undeniable when facing the restored neoliberal agendas; the abstentionism and disdain for politics favor the plans of the right in important countries of the region, and the public strengthening of fascist figures and projects in several countries.

There have been defeatist attitudes, sponsorship or tolerance of personalism and sectarianism, loss of confidence in the political capacity of our exploited peoples. This not only constitutes an affront to the heroes and martyrs of the struggles for the emancipation of our continent, but is a gratuitous and unnecessary concession to the US, its allies in the world and in the region.

This reality explains in a fundamental degree the adverse change in the correlation of forces prevailing today.

The cases of the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, the Sandinista of Nicaragua and the Cuban socialist are the result of long processes of struggle, in which the people have been liberated and dignified, have received important benefits from social programs, have been winning political consciousness and unity. A political direction has been forged and consolidated, with an important popular root. Unity, consciousness, leaderships are very important keys.

Q: There is an argument that Trump's policy could push Cuba into the arms of Russia and China. The recent visit of the Russian warship to the port of Havana, the oil trade of Rosneft to Cuba and the rumor that Russia is behind the "sonic attack" against US diplomats in Cuba. Is President Vladimir Putin here to upset Latin American relations with the United States?

A: The relations between Cuba and Russia are excellent, and are based on traditional ties of friendship between the peoples of both countries. They register a growing positive trend in areas of common interest, among which the high-level political dialogue, the economic-commercial and scientific-technical relations, as well as the cultural and educational one stand out.

It is known that we maintain a high level of agreement in the vision towards different topics of the international agenda, the defense of peace and the role of international organizations.

Something similar happens in our relations with China.

As for the alleged incidents with the American diplomatic personnel in Havana, I can assure you that Cuba has no responsibility in them and that the US lies deliberately about it.

There is not the least evidence of the occurrence of the alleged incidents.

Cuba rigorously fulfills its obligations regarding the protection of foreign diplomats, without exception.

Anti-Cuban elements in the US have politically manipulated this issue with the purpose of reversing relations between the two countries. Its hasty, unfounded and unacceptable decisions have seriously affected the functioning of embassies and ties, including official dialogue, bilateral cooperation, exchanges, travel of Americans to Cuba and family visits.

There is a media agenda to keep the public attentive to this issue. I do not know how far they want to go with this. They are experts in fabricating pretexts to start conflicts. First was the theory of sonic attacks, then viral, and now with microwaves. Tomorrow we do not know what it will be. Everything is false and absurd. They know it. There is no scientific evidence, nor seriousness in what they say.

Against Russia have been many campaigns. Every day is in the news. They do not know what they are going to say or invent. The truth is that Russia is making a huge contribution to the global balance, to avoid a unipolar world and that bothers some sectors of power in the US.

Q:  We have heard about Trump's suggestion of the military invasion against Venezuela and the assassination of Bashar al-Assad. What is your reaction to the news?

A: Both in Venezuela and in Syria the plans of the USA have been defeated.

The use of force and assassination are desperate options, which have never been outside the agenda of US policy. There are many examples in history. Only in the case of Fidel Castro there are proofs that they tried to kill him more than 600 times.

The only recommendation I can make to the US government about these cases is that they think it over and make no mistake, because it can cost them dearly.

Q: At what level are the political and economic relations between Iran and Cuba? In what areas can we expect more cooperation and convergence?

A: The relations between our nations have been consolidating since the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Both countries work hard to develop and bring to the same level as political relations, the economic, trade and cooperation ones. There are several areas where we have identified common interests, some are already working with results, and others are in the exploration phase: biotechnology (medicines, vaccines), energy, mini industries, nanotechnology, academic sector, tourism, and media, among others. .

Cuba has expressed its profound rejection of the decision of the US government to withdraw from the Nuclear Agreement, and the decision to impose sanctions or unilateral coercive economic measures.

Failure to comply with this international commitment violates the rules of coexistence between States and can have serious consequences for regional and international stability and security.

We call on all signatory parties to respect the nuclear agreement with Iran, while recognizing the legitimate right of any State to produce and make use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Finally, I would like reiterate that Cuba has counted on the valuable support of Iran in favor of the just claim of the end of the blockade of the United States of America against Cuba, which we will always appreciate.

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