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Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister on U.S. Embargo, Gay Marriage & Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

StorySeptember 22, 2022
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We speak to Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío about U.S.-Cuba relations, sanctions and more. He is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where countries are expected to vote again in favor of lifting the 60-year economic blockade imposed by the U.S. on Cuba. “The aim of the United States policy since 1960 has been to make life as difficult and as unbearable as possible for the people of Cuba with the ambition that that would lead to the overthrow of the government,” says Fernández de Cossío. He also discusses Cuba’s abstentions in U.N. votes critical of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, saying that while Cuba “cannot and does not support” a violation of another country’s sovereignty, the U.S. still bears “huge responsibility” for the conflict because of its push to expand NATO into Eastern Europe.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

A number of world leaders addressing the U.N. General Assembly this week have called for the United States to lift its 60-year economic blockade on Cuba, including Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández and Honduran President Xiomara Castro. The body is set to vote for the 30th year in a row this fall in favor of a resolution to end the U.S. blockade. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez addressed the General Assembly Wednesday.

BRUNO RODRÍGUEZ PARRILLA: [translated] The U.S. government continues to ignore the demand, almost an encouragement from you, to continue its illegal and cruel policy against Cuba. It persists in its efforts to generate material shortages, scarcity and suffering, sow discouragement, dissatisfaction, and to cause harm to the Cuban people. The government of the United States puts pressure on governments, banking institutions and companies from all over the world interested in having relations with Cuba, and obsessively pursues all sources of income to provoke an economic collapse.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the United States announced it will fully resume processing Cuban immigrant visa applications, which have been handled at the U.S. Embassy in Guyana since 2017 under the Trump administration. Cubans have been part of a record number of migrants and refugees at the U.S. border recently. Some have been bused north by Republican governors, along with Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. Again, this is Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez addressing the U.N.

BRUNO RODRÍGUEZ PARRILLA: [translated] We urge the government of the United States to solve the issues which fuel irregular migration and promote the loss of life, such as its failure since 2017 to comply with the obligation, according to valid bilateral agreements, to grant no less than 20,000 annual visas for migrants; the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act; the politically motivated, privileged treatment; the restrictive pressures on countries of regular transit; and the reinforced economic blockade.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, who’s here in New York with the foreign minister.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Thanks so much for joining us. If you can talk about the Biden administration? Do you see real changes from the Trump administration? You told AP that you met recently with Biden administration officials. While they don’t agree with keeping Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism, that it has to be done anyway for political reasons. Where is the change?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: Thank you for having me.

The announcement yesterday, what it does is tries to correct one of the first measures of over 240 that were applied during the Trump administration against Cuba and against the policy that had achieved progress in the bilateral relationship between 2015 and 2016, the last of which measures was including Cuba in the list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism.

Yes, we have had talks with the U.S. government. We have official channels of communication. Those were never interrupted. And we have expressed that there’s no substance, there’s no foundation to have Cuba in that list. And we have not received any argument, any evidence, any reason why Cuba should continue to be on the list, where it should never have been. The reason — it’s not said openly, but the reason that one can only understand for that not to be changed are political reasons, dealing more with domestic realities in the U.S. than with the real fight against terrorism, or having to do more than with bilateral relations or with international relations.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Deputy Foreign Minister, if you could talk about what the effects of these continuing sanctions are on Cuba, particularly now given the dual effects of the invasion of — the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its ripple effects, and the high rate of inflation, the devaluation of the currency, of the peso? There have been widespread blackouts, as well as long queues for basic commodities. And, of course, the pandemic, the lockdowns associated with the pandemic have also had terrible effects on people in Cuba. So, if you could talk about the economic situation there?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: For this to be understood, Americans would have to think what it would imply for their livelihoods and for the economy of the U.S. if a large economy, for example, like the European Union, were to sever relationship with the United States and stop all sales to the U.S. and all purchases from the U.S. and deprive the U.S. from the possibility — and American citizens — from doing financial transactions in Europe or in other parts of the world, or if the United States economy all of a sudden could not export weapons anymore, just to give you one feature of an important factor of the U.S. economy. If the arms industry could not export weapons, what would be the effect for the U.S. economy?

If a country, like, smaller than the European Union, like Mexico, were to stop its economic relationship totally with the United States, well, you can multiply that, you can see the impact for Cuba, when an economy with an overwhelming impact and weight around the world has the capacity to punish Cuba, to put obstacles to Cuba’s transactions in any country around the world, commercially, financially and technologically. All that has a huge impact in the livelihoods and in the standard of living on the Cuban population.

And the worst is that that is by design. The aim of the United States policy since the 1960 has been to make life as difficult and as unbearable as possible for the people of Cuba, with the ambition that that would lead to the overthrow of the government. That is the impact for the people of Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could talk about President Biden calling Cuba a failed state? I mean, that’s interesting. I mean, in terms of healthcare, recent figures show Cubans can expect to live to 79. For the first time in the United States, life expectancy has dropped — the first time in a century — several years. U.S., the number has dropped to 76. Can you talk about Cuba’s healthcare system and also how you’ve dealt with COVID, the difference between the United States and Cuba, and your development of vaccines?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: Declaring Cuba or calling Cuba a failed state seemed like a confession of wishful thinking. That has been the aim of the policy of the United States, to make Cuba what it is not. If you look at Cuba’s social progress, compared not to developing countries but compared to the U.S., in education, in the guarantee of quality healthcare for all, in science and technology, there’s no way that anyone with a sensible mind and with information could call Cuba a failed state, even though, as I said, it is the aim of the U.S.

Cuba has come out of the COVID pandemic with our own resources, in spite of U.S. hostility during that period, as a result of the robust nature of our public health system and as a result of our scientific results and the fact that we produced our own vaccines — not one, but five candidates, three of which were applied and were the ones that had a major role in solving the problems. Cuba continues to thrive in terms of art creation, art training, education, science, sports, in spite of the very difficult economic conditions that we have. Those are not the characteristics of a failed state.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Deputy Foreign Minister, if you could respond to some of the criticisms that have been made, not by the U.S. government but by human rights groups, about the extent to which there’s been a crackdown on dissent, and fears now that the recent penal code that was approved in Cuba may lead to even more punitive responses against dissent and less freedom of expression for those who oppose the government?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: That is a narrative deliberately crafted by the U.S. government to justify the changes in policy introduced by the Trump administration. And it continues to be repeated. The new penal code in Cuba has been a step forward. It incorporates some of the most progressive legal issues regarding criminal activity, regarding respect for the people who participate, for the people who are prosecuted. It is a step forward, in line with some of the most progressive instruments in that nature promoted by the United Nations and by resolutions with the United Nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the referendum that Cubans will vote on this Sunday, the new code legalizing same-sex marriage and civil unions, allowing same-sex couples to adopt children? It would also allow prenuptial agreements and surrogate pregnancies, if they’re nonprofit. Explain where this came from and what you expect to happen.

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: What we’re going to vote on on Sunday is what we call the Families Code. It will replace their previous Family Code, in plural, and this one is in — in singular, I mean. This one is in plural, because it’s based on the concept that there are different types and different nature of families. It has many features that modernize our Family Code, which is outdated. It was progressive in the 1970s, but today, with the cultural revolution, with the ethical revolution in Cuba, with what happens around the world, what we see happens around the world, it tries to incorporate the most advanced characteristics of families, in terms of children, the rights of women, the rights of people to form a communal union without having to depend on a legal instrument, and yet have the rights in terms of inheritance, in terms of property, that people who are married have. It also does not try to define who can form a union based on gender or political orientation. It provides many new rights for the population, without it taking away any of the existing rights. That is, in synthesis, the basis of this code. It is controversial, because it breaks with traditional prejudices, with — sometimes with religious considerations, with ethical patterns of thinking. But we are sure it will have the support of the majority of the Cuban population. And because of this controversy, it was considered that there was a need for a referendum, and that’s what we’re planning to do on Sunday.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Deputy Foreign Minister, I’d like to ask about the foreign policy of Cuba, in particular with respect to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When the invasion occurred, shortly thereafter, there was a vote in the General Assembly in March where the majority of countries condemned the invasion, and Cuba, in fact, then abstained. And then, more recently, the majority of the General Assembly voted in favor of allowing Ukrainian President Zelensky to submit a prerecorded speech, but Cuba joined Belarus, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Syria in voting against. If you could talk about what Cuba’s position is on this war?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: Cuba’s position is not new. For some years now, we have been alerting of the dangerous path taken by the U.S. trying to push NATO in an aggressive position threatening Russia. It would be naive, and it was naive, to expect that Russia would not react one moment or the other. So, we — in our position, we say there’s a huge responsibility by the U.S. government by pushing NATO in an aggressive position against Russia.

At the same time, Cuba cannot support and does not support the transgression of the sovereign borders or the sovereignty and territory of any country. That explains our abstention in the resolution that took place in the U.N. We also have a great support for some of the resolutions that were quoted in that resolution. We couldn’t vote against them.

Now, we clearly see that there has been a path — and it’s not only with Russia — by the U.S. to act as an aggressive hegemon trying to tear down or to put down any country that it seems that eventually — eventually — could be a rival to the United States. That is not the way to conduct international relations. It only serves U.S. big corporate interests. It doesn’t serve the people of the United States. It doesn’t serve the people around the world. And it’s a transgression of international law. It’s a transgression of peace and of security for all nations. We have —

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the mass protests in Russia right now as President Putin has declared that he will now send 300,000 more troops to Ukraine?

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: It’s a domestic issue of Russia. We will not respond to that, as you have domestic mass protests in the United States every now and then.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to President Biden now saying that he will soon spend $6.25 million in so-called democracy promotion funding aimed at toppling the Cuban government? You said, in any nation, this is illegal. Explain.

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: Well, it is illegal to try to overthrow the government of any country. And spending millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money to try to overthrow a government in Cuba, you can claim it’s for democracy, you can claim it’s for the protection of human rights, but everybody who has a little information and understands the history would know that the aim is that the United States cannot accept and does not want to accept a government in this region that is not subject to the demands of corporate interests, whose government cannot be bought with money, where politicians respond to the people and not to who pays the most, where we can carry out social, health —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ DE COSSÍO: — educational, housing policies without having to ask the permission of the International Monetary Fund.

AMY GOODMAN: Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cubas’s deputy foreign minister, we thank you for being with us, speaking to us from New York. That does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.

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