Díaz-Canel: Biden’s Administration chose to be Faithful to the Aggressive Approach Promoted by Trump against Cuba

By Pascual Serrano on August 5, 2023

Miguel Diaz Canel, photo: Alejandro Azcuy Domínguez / Presidency of Cuba

Cuba, a country of just over eleven million people, is always in the news. However, its leaders are rarely heard. Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first president born after the Cuban revolution, responds to Público, in his first interview to a Spanish media since he took office, about the current affairs of the island in an interview arranged in Havana and later carried out in writing.

The Cuban president talks about the conflict behind the consideration of Cuba as a country sponsoring terrorism, denounces the similarity of the anti-Cuban policy of Biden and Trump, explains the economic situation of the country after the covid-19 pandemic and analyzes his recent meetings with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

One of the main diplomatic conflicts between Cuba and the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump was the accusation of sonic attacks against U.S. embassy staff in Cuba, causing its personnel dizziness and nausea, among other symptoms. Investigations have recently concluded that there is no responsibility of a foreign government in the event and that there were no weapons behind these events.

Those accusations against Cuba led to the application of sanctions, including the indefinite cancellation of visas for Cubans. What has happened after the recognition that the Government of Cuba is not behind it?

In my opinion, it would not be correct to describe it as a diplomatic conflict. It was a slanderous operation designed by the US Government with a very clear political objective.

It is known that the step taken by the Obama Administration to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and move towards more constructive and respectful ties had a majority support in the US, even among people of Cuban origin.

Dismantling that, as the Trump Administration intended to do when it came to power, required starting by discrediting the state of relations, discrediting our country as well, and rebuilding the narrative of Cuba as a hostile state. That is the heart of the problem.

Since then, the accusatory narrative has only been enriched with new slanders to justify the return to an aggressive political approach against Cuba and the imposition of additional coercive measures.

Therefore, what is important is not the initial sanctions or coercive measures under the specific pretext of health symptoms, but everything that followed from that initial step.

The U.S. intelligence agencies themselves have been in charge over time of denying the slanderous allegations of alleged attacks and of confirming what Cuba and a good part of the scientific community in the U.S. and other parts of the world had been saying. However, the hostile policy approach has remained in place and is the prevailing climate today with the current US government.

The media character is very evident in the label given to it: ‘Havana Syndrome’. Later, dozens of US diplomats in other countries complaining of the same symptoms appeared and the label was also denied, but that is where the montage remained, pointing the finger at Cuba without a single serious proof of the accusations.

The truth always ends up imposing itself, but while waiting for that moment  arrive, the lie does its work and becomes a pretext for a criminal policy that not even the truth has been able to undo.

The Trump Administration, at the end of its term, included Cuba in the list of countries sponsoring terrorism (from which it had left in 2015). What is the significance of this for the country?

The aggressively anti-Cuban sectors were pressuring Trump to include Cuba in that list since he took office and he seems to have resisted until the last moment. He took so long to do so that, in practice, it has been the Biden Administration that has ended up implementing the consequences of that measure.

Diaz Canel with Cuban students. photo: Tomada de @leticiadeCuba.

This is a markedly aggressive and far-reaching step. It is not only an unacceptable slander that shows the opportunistic approach of the US to the scourge of terrorism. It is that this designation has a threatening effect on the banking and financial institutions of almost all countries and leads them to refuse to have relations with the country that is designated, as is Cuba in this case.

In practical terms, it has caused us to lose our relationship with an important group of banking and financial institutions in many parts of the world and has made it difficult for us to establish links with others for the performance of our economy. This makes our commercial activity extremely difficult, hinders payments and collections, makes imports more expensive and limits credit possibilities.

This translates into shortages, non-compliance with payment commitments, difficulties in acquiring inputs for industry, services and the consumption of the population. At the same time, it discourages foreign investment and even limits international cooperation.

The impact is on business economic activity, but also on individuals when they travel and need to make payments or transactions outside Cuba.  It is an infamous but real paradox: the sponsors of terrorism against Cuba have the cynicism to accuse Cuba of sponsoring terrorism.

The surprise was that the Democratic Biden Administration renewed that consideration last February 28. Among its justifications is the presence of spokespersons of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Cuban territory, what is your opinion?

The designation of Cuba on the list has no real relation to the issue of terrorism. It is an instrument of economic coercion. The issue of terrorism, the presence or non-presence of an ELN delegation in Cuba is nothing more than a pretext. It makes no sense to try to decipher such an openly opportunistic political act.

The previous Colombian government engaged in hostile actions against Cuba, such as public statements, threats and summonses, through the ungrateful and politically motivated manipulation of Cuba’s unobjectionable contribution to peace in Colombia.

For example, on the same day that the US announced that it was including us in the list of countries that allegedly do not fully cooperate with US efforts against terrorism, the High Commissioner for Peace of the Duque administration publicly stated that the State Department’s decision to include the island was an endorsement of the Colombian government and its insistent request for Cuba to hand over the members of the ELN peace delegation.

The conduct and actions of the Duque Administration, in collusion with anti-Cuban sectors in the United States, provided the pretexts for the Trump Administration to tighten the economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba and the illegitimate designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism that causes enormous costs and serious humanitarian consequences for the people.

But since August 12, 2022 the new Colombian Government recognized that the ELN Delegation in Cuba was legitimate and was its interlocutor. In fact, the first meeting between the Colombian Government of President Petro and the ELN took place in Havana on that date, when the Colombian Foreign Minister and the new Colombian High Commissioner for Peace visited us. From then on, the agreed protocols for the reinstallation of the Peace Dialogue Table were fulfilled.

This was done together with the Norwegian guarantors, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Colombia and the Colombian Episcopal Conference.

In October 2022, the members of the ELN Dialogue Delegation that remained in Cuba withdrew from the national territory, in compliance with an agreement between the National Government of Colombia and the ELN, before the guarantors of Norway, Venezuela and Cuba. And it was decided to reinstall the Peace Dialogue Table between the Colombian Government and the ELN.

The Colombian Government lifted the arrest warrants and suspended the notifications of international cooperation requests and Interpol alerts for the members of the Peace Delegation of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and decided to cancel the extradition requests made to Cuba for members of said delegation who remained on the island.

These ELN members went to Venezuela, to Mexico to meet with the Colombian Government and six other countries and are now in Cuba. Happily for the Colombian people and for all Latin America and the Caribbean, the Dialogue Table closed its third cycle a few days ago here in Havana, with very important agreements on the process of participation of the Colombian society in the construction of peace and the bilateral, national and temporary ceasefire.

But despite this development in the peace negotiations between the Colombian Government and the ELN, the U.S. position against Cuba continues.

That is true. However, the United States has not changed a comma in its argumentation to keep us on the spurious list. I imagine that the specialists who really fight against terrorism must be ashamed.

As for Cuba, we act ethically, in accordance with the protocols we signed. We are a nation that when it pledges its word, it keeps it. And we are a nation with a painful memory laden with victims of terrorism.

It seems clear that, unlike Obama, the Democratic Biden Administration has not chosen to relax sanctions and the blockade against Cuba and maintains almost all of Trump’s measures. Why this difference between two Democratic presidents?

It is a very frequent and logical question. Even U.S. politicians ask it. Deciphering it would entail, perhaps, a more complete understanding of the characteristics and games of the U.S. political system.

What is clear is that the Biden Administration chose to be faithful to the aggressive approach promoted by Trump and disloyal to the course set by the Obama Administration, of which Biden himself was a part when he was Vice President.

It is also clear that there has been a bet on the collapse of the Cuban economy since the current government came to power. That explains the tightening of the blockade during the pandemic and the misleading statements about a supposed review of Trump’s policy, while the most harmful and representative elements of that policy were applied with full rigor.

Perversity is the resort of imperial politics when it encounters an adversary who will not give up. Republicans or Democrats have sustained that policy for 200 years.

You have recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. What is your assessment of these meetings and what is your perception of the role of these two powers in the world crisis over the war in Ukraine?

I have been able to have deep and warm exchanges with comrade Xi Jinping at different times. The last one was last November 2022, following the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China and his re-election as General Secretary of the Party.

Comrade Xi is a sincere friend of the Cuban people and a statesman with solid principles, who has been able to place integral development, institutionality, legality and the people at the center of his efforts.

I must highlight his personal attention and the priority he gives to relations with Cuba and his recognition of the role played by Cuba’s historic leadership in forging the close friendship between Cuba and China.

We also recognize the diplomatic efforts that China and in particular, Secretary General and President Xi Jinping have been making in favor of finding a lasting and negotiated political solution to the conflict in Ukraine.

We agree on the need for a vision of cooperative and sustainable security for all countries, based on respect for the United Nations Charter, contrary to unilateralism and, in particular, unilateral sanctions.

I have also had extensive exchanges with President Vladimir Putin, marked by camaraderie and the common will to strengthen in all areas the relations that distinguish two sister nations such as Cuba and Russia.

The atmosphere of frank cordiality of our meetings with a sincere friend, demonstrated by deeds, is the result of the traditional friendship founded by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro to whom a monument was dedicated in Moscow, which we unveiled during my most recent visit to Russia, in November 2022.

It was exciting to hear on the occasion, the admiration and respect that President Putin professes for the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, of whom he said he was a man who inspires and guides millions on the other side of the world.

A friendly, but also strategic relationship is the one we are developing with Russia, based on historical ties of friendship and brotherhood, forged since the times of the Soviet Union with feelings of respect, affection, coincidence on political issues and a potential for the development of economic-commercial, financial, scientific-technical links, among others, which we must strengthen.

We reject the progressive expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders, which has led to a scenario with implications of unpredictable scope. As a country that defends international law and is committed to the Charter of the United Nations, which will always defend peace, we condemn all sanctions applied to the Russian Federation as a method of coercion.

We advocate a diplomatic and realistic solution that guarantees the security and sovereignty of all and addresses legitimate humanitarian concerns.

From China and Russia we have received only solidarity and cooperation, without conditions. China and Russia are friends. And with them we share the defense of multilateralism, which is the greatest guarantee of peace.

European governments are showing in the Ukrainian war a clear harmony with the United States. I do not know if you have the same opinion regarding Cuba. Do you think that the European Union and the Spanish Government in particular are having an autonomous and sovereign policy in their relations with Cuba or are they following American pressures? Do you miss any measure of European or Spanish collaboration with Cuba?

Cuba’s relations with the European Union have been governed since 2017 by a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (ADPC) between Cuba, the EU and its 27 Member States based on principles of reciprocity, equality and respect. This has allowed us to advance both in our political ties through the mechanisms of dialogue, comprised in the ADPC and cooperation, which have an important impact on the economic development of the country.

We have advanced towards a more mature relationship that favors a broad exchange within the framework of a diverse agenda of bilateral and multilateral issues, including those where differences exist. As evidenced in the Third Cuba-EU Joint Council, held on May 26, 2023, for which the High Representative, Josep Borrell, visited us, there is a willingness on both sides to continue building better relations between Cuba and the European Union for mutual benefit.

We acknowledge the support of the European Union as a whole to the resolution that Cuba presents annually at the United Nations General Assembly against the US blockade. The extraterritorial nature of this policy has among its main targets European companies and entities, therefore we urge the EU to apply its regulations to protect its citizens from the effects of unilateral coercive measures that interfere in the normal development of bilateral relations.

The European Union has been clear in its position in favor of removing Cuba from the list of State sponsors of terrorism drawn up by the United States Government, as part of its policy of maximum pressure on Cuba.

In the particular case of Spain, there are historical relations between both countries, based on mutual respect, cultural and family ties. Bilateral relations celebrated their 121st anniversary on June 21. Spain continues to be one of Cuba’s main economic partners globally and within the EU in particular.

The covid crisis especially affected countries dependent on tourism. This is the case of Spain and Cuba. In Spain, tourism is recovering; however, I have the perception that it is having a hard time in Cuba. What is the economic situation of the country after the impact of Covid on the Cuban economy?

photo: Bill Hackwell

Tourism is a strategic sector for the Cuban economy. In the years from 2015 to 2019, the average growth rate of our economy was 1.8%, while tourism was at 5.8%, the second most dynamic rate behind construction.

Due to its financial contributions to other sectors of the economy, which participate 60% in tourism purchases, which also favors the substitution of imports, it is considered a dynamizing factor for the rest of the country’s economic sectors, including the activities of non-state forms of management.

And it could be said that so far this century, until 2019, the results of this economic activity in the country confirmed that the decision to prioritize its development was the right one.

Then came the covid-19 pandemic and tourism, globally, suffered its greatest crisis in 2020. One piece of data would suffice to illustrate the drop: worldwide, travel fell by 72% compared to the previous year.

Cuba, which had started 2020 with an acceptable performance -more than 981,900 travelers in the first quarter alone-, is forced to decree a border closure on March 24.

The statistics take us back to the 1997 level, a 23-year setback.

During practically the entire year 2021 (until November 15), the border closure was maintained. The health of the people was the priority and the country turned to the search for vaccines and treatments, aware that, as a consequence of the reinforced blockade, the only safe solutions would be those we would find with our scarce resources and the abundant talent trained by the Revolution.

I say all this because Cuba’s performance in tourism cannot be compared with that of other nations. The challenge that touches all States, as a consequence of the spread of the pandemic, in our case is multiplied by another pandemic that still knows no vaccine: six decades of blockade, plus 243 measures, mostly aimed at undermining the economy as a whole and tourism in particular, many of which were tightened during the health emergency caused by the pandemic, with a devastating impact on our people.

I am not saying that we do not have efficiency problems, nor do I deny that we need profound transformations in a sector so sensitive to global problems. But undoubtedly, there is a before and after the covid-19 and the opportunistic reinforcement of the blockade in that context, which has negatively moved a performance that was growing steadily.

There are the results in 2018, with its historical record of visitors. That year, 822,464 travelers were received by sea, 17.4% of the 4,711,900 who stayed in Cuba. Then began to appear, one after another or in packages, the 243 measures issued by the Donald Trump Administration to dismantle the easing of travel to Cuba, ban the arrival of cruise ships and close to Cuba as many outlets as it could find to the ongoing global crisis.

These measures, maintained by the Biden administration, together with the arbitrary inclusion of Cuba on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, feed the permanent media campaign against our country and impact all sectors of the Cuban economy and society, but, particularly, are aimed at damaging tourism.

We are not only a forbidden country for American tourists, who consider themselves citizens of the “free world”. Since 2021, the ESTA visa is no longer valid for European citizens to enter the United States. If they pass through Cuba, they are obliged to ask for a regular visa. Another blow, another stone in the way of the Cuban economy to recover.

When I speak of perversity, I am talking about policies like that. Nothing tells us that this cruel policy will end in the short term. Our decision is to jump over the blockade and move forward.

Source: Publico, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English