Cuba’s ambassador to Cyprus Aramis Fuente speaks to former Cyprus ambassador Andrestinos Papadopoulos on his hopes for improved relations with the United States
After more than half a century of hostility the US and Cuba have restored diplomatic ties and reopened their embassies. What reaction has this historic event generated in Cuba?
Cubans, of course, viewed this historic event with happiness, especially with the return of the Cuban Five anti-terrorist fighters, who had been unjustly imprisoned in the United States for over 16 years. Obviously, the agreements were joyfully received and created a greater commitment in the battle to defend the country, its values and its right to build on the political system and preserve the important achievements attained since the triumph of the revolution in January 1959.
Cubans always had feelings of friendship and respect for the North American people, but the policy towards Cuba of US administrations was a very different thing, and Cuba has defended with courage and dignity its right to independence and sovereignty.
It is well-known that the Vatican mediated in the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba. The recent visit of Pope Francis to both countries acquires particular importance since he urged the old cold War foes to deepen their détente. How do you plan to proceed on this matter?
Cubans have recognised and acknowledged Pope Francisco’s support in improving dialogue and relations between the US and Cuba.
The first step towards normalisation of such links has been the restoration of diplomatic relations, but it is clear that this will be a long process requiring solutions to multiple and sensitive issues to remedy injustices and indignities that have marked the lives of the Cuban people in such an indelible way for more than 55 years.
As our President Raul Castro announced in his speech on December 17, 2014, this has been the result of a respectful dialogue at the highest level, a dialogue based on sovereign equality, without damaging our independence or self-determination and without us giving up any of our principles.
It’s not a secret that the governments of the United States and Cuba present deep differences, in particular the exercise of national sovereignty, political models, democracy, human rights and international relations. But Cuba, true to its well-known position, reaffirmed its willingness to talk in a constructive way and in a climate of respect and reciprocity. Cuba’s intention is to progress towards the normalisation of bilateral relations which will only be possible on the basis of a mutual respect and observance of the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter. We can and should live in peace, each with their own ideas and system, without trying to impose doctrines or stereotypes that do not belong to the other part.
Exchanges and contacts have been proceeding in an atmosphere of respect and professionalism. A bilateral commission has already had its first meeting and various committees have begun to meet to analyse specific issues of mutual interest, in areas such as communications, air traffic, the mail system, fight against drug trafficking, scientific exchanges, academic, sports, cultural and others.
During the recent session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Cuban president said that “now a long and complex process towards normalisation of relations is starting and it will be reached only when the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba is finally stopped and when the illegally occupied territory of the US naval base at Guantanamo is returned to Cuba, and all the acts of subversion and destabilisation against Cuba through the radio and television, and our people are compensated for the human and economic damage that they still suffer.”
Cuba insists on the need to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against it. President Obama announced recently wide-ranging new rules to further ease trade, travel and investment restrictions with Cuba. How do you view this first step towards easing the embargo?
The first thing I want to stress is that the blockade against Cuba, which even now continues in full force and application, must stop.
According to very conservative estimates, the economic damage for the Cuban people from the blockade during all these years amounts to over 121.192 billion dollars at current prices
In the context of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, we appreciate the intention expressed by President Obama to open a new chapter in ties between the two nations, recognising that the blockade affects the Cuban people, and to invite the US Congress to put an end to this policy.
Although President Obama carried out an act of historical justice by notifying Congress of his decision to exclude Cuba from the so-called list of state sponsors of international terrorism – a list in which Cuba should never have been included – it doesn’t mean relief from the tangle of prohibitions and restrictions prescribed by US laws.
The regulations issued by the US departments of treasury and commerce on January 15, 2015, and most recently in September, are a step in a right direction on issues such as travel to Cuba, telecommunications, shipments and others. But these measures are very limited and only modify some aspects of the embargo.
President Obama has still ample opportunities to significantly modify the blockade by using his executive power and without referring to Congress, and it would be very useful and significant if he did so.
For all these reasons, Cuba will maintain its rightful claim and hopes that, as for the past 23 years, the United Nations General Assembly will vote overwhelmingly on October 27 in favor of a draft resolution which calls upon the US government to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade that still has a hold on Cuba.
Cuba and Cyprus enjoy friendly relations which developed within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement. How do you see them expanding in this new era?
The relations between the peoples of Cuba and Cyprus have been always warm and very close; we are united by a long and solid friendship. Solidarity and mutual support have characterised our relations over many years and, frankly, we are honoured by this.
Next November will mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. Οn this occasion we will organise a series of events to mark this important anniversary. Cuba notes with pride the historical fact that it was one of the first countries to recognise the Republic of Cyprus, immediately after independence.
Bilateral relations are going well. We maintain a close and fruitful cooperation in multilateral organisations and there are agreements in different sectors which reflect both countries’ will and interest in continuing to expand and strengthen ties.