For 60 years, the United States and her allies have pursued an economic embargo against Cuba in the hope of dismantling the socialist revolution installed by Fidel Castro but to no avail. To mark this year’s African Continental Conference of Solidarity with Cuba, the President of Institute of Cuban de Amistad con los Puebios, Fernando Gonzalez Llot, in this interview with Onyebuchi Ezigbo,said the economic blockade had only served to inflict sufferings and deprivation on Cubans and other people around the world, who would have benefited from an unhindered Cuban trade with the rest of the world
What is your mission in Nigeria?
I am the president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship With People. I am here in Nigeria to participate in the conference in solidarity with Cuba, which is the gathering of all the friends of Cuba on the continent to get together in Nigeria and discuss how to strengthen the solidarity. There are representatives from 20 different countries from Africa and about 100 delegates from different countries in Africa.
When we talk about lifting embargoes by the United States on Cuba. What are these sanctions and why were they put in place in the first place?
It is a long history of the United States government trying to have Cuba to be dependent on it. It dated back to 60 years from 1902 to 1960 or 1959. We have been striving for recognition and Cuba was almost a colony of the United States. Our economy was dependent on the United States; our politics was dependent on the United States. Basically, the Cuban government did all that the United States government wanted them to do and the Cuban revolution in 1959 stopped all that.
Ever since then, the United States government has recommended this full financial, economic and trade blockade and of course, back then our economy was dependent on the United States. Most of their items that Cuba consumes they blocked from coming in so the United States thought that by blocking it back then that Cuba will not resist it. Which implied that Cuba could no longer import from the United States.
The blockade has been there for over 60 years and its aim was to strangle the Cuban economy and if you go back to the official US document, it was written by then Secretary of State suggesting to the president to implement this kind of policy.
In that document, it is written in black and white that the Cuban government had the support of the majority of the Cubans and the only way to take that support from the Cuban government was to make the Cuban people undergo hardship and cause a scarcity of the basic things in life and make the economy in Cuba scream as they called it.
That was the logic behind this blockade of Cuba and they were thinking that the Cuban people would blame the government for their difficulties and that they would get rid of the government but that hasn’t happened in 60 years. Now we have a new administration in the United States that has in the past two years implemented this blockade in the tightest way possible. The government is going after every single financial transaction, the Cuban government and Cuban companies do in the world to obtain the resources it needs which goes from the supply of oil to Cuba and goes as far as confiscating them from all the countries that take the oil to Cuba.
They have gone as far as pressuring those companies that are shipping the oil to Cuba. They are denying US citizens to travel to Cuba. They are limiting the funds that Cubans can send to their people back in Cuba. So they are trying to strangle the Cuban economy and make the Cuban government and its people to kneel and accept the conditions the United States want for the Cubans. That is not going to happen. We in Cuba are going to resist any measures taken by the United States.
The fact is that we are going through very hard times, a very limited amount of diesel and oil for the economy to function. If you go to the streets of Cuba you will see queues of cars waiting to get fuels from the pumps, because there is a limited supply of fuel available. The state companies and state bureaucracy have been limiting the times and hours they could work in order to save fuel, because the power that is generated is limited but we are going to resist. The US government has been doing this for years and they have been unsuccessful, because we know what we want in Cuba. We support the efforts of the Cuban government and the Cuban people are aware of the origin of the difficulties we are going through.
The hostility of the United States has to cease and that is what we are asking our friends all over the world to accompany the Cuban people which they have done over the years understanding at this time in their life and history that Cubans are going through a difficult time and a response to that is for the Cuban people and friends of Cuba to demand the lifting of the embargo.
The US-Cuba dispute has global implications. Is there any role that the United Nations has been playing to resolve it?
The United Nations General Assembly every year for the last 26 years have been passing a resolution that Cuba has presented in the General Assembly demanding the lifting of the blockade. Every one of it passed with the vast majority of the government in the world in favour of the Cuban resolution. In fact, the only two countries that have voted against the bill were Israel and the United States, the remaining 192 countries in the United Nations Assembly voted in favour of the Cuban resolution demanding that the US government lifts the embargo.
But we can’t leave it all to the United Nations General Assembly. The United States government knows that the policy is rejected by the World and the US knows that the people of the world are also demanding the lifting of the blockade. They feel the pressure and moral pressure from the world for them to lift the embargo.
How is this embargo implemented and how does it hurt the Cuban economy?
We call it a blockade but it is actually an economic war against Cuba, because the blockade was enacted in 1960 and it is a whole set of rules, regulations, and laws that have been passed through the years. In 1996, the US passed the Property Burden act and what it does is to take the blockade to the international level and how do they do this?
Well, according to that law, any US citizen is open to take to US court any company that does business with Cuba if those businesses are in any way related to property that is allegedly confiscated by the Cuban government, during the trial of revolution.
The fact is that this law is unlawful in itself, because no property in Cuba was confiscated. Properties were nationalised. Nationalisation is a principle of law that is agreed upon by all countries of the world, which is part of international law and there are many precedents like the Mexican revolution and the Russian revolution way before the Cuban revolution that went through the process of nationalisation.
The companies that were nationalised by the Cuban government and were put in the hands of the Cuban people and administrated by the Cuban people were all compensated for and to all the governments of all the countries. France has properties in Cuba that were nationalised and they were compensated by the Cuban government. Italy, Spain, and Canada had properties in Cuba that were nationalised and their governments were compensated.
The only country in the world that never accepted the compensation that the Cuban government was offering was the United States and why was that? Because by 1960, the US government was already preparing an invasion so they didn’t allow the US companies to accept the compensation, because the logic was with the invasion.
The issue would be solved because the Cuban government would be toppled which is an invasion of Cuba with an army of Cuban mercenaries living in the United States that was funded by the CIA and the US government to launch it on Cuba in 1961.
So, that was the logic that the US government was implying by telling the US companies to reject the compensation given by the Cuban government and now they have opened the US court to allow a US citizen to claim in court in the United States that a company abroad is dealing with properties that belong to them when they were the ones that never accepted the compensation.
As a matter of fact, they are allowing people that were not citizens of the United States back then but are now to use the legal system in the United States to sue a company from Italy, France, England and any part of the world that deals with Cuba.
In fact, they are trying to scare foreign investors.
Cuba is in need of foreign investors like any other developing country and they know that and what they are trying to do is scare off those potential investors. Those who are already investing in Cuba we could say they are staying and they are doing business with Cuba but there are many businesses around the world that would like to do business with Cuba but they are looking at Cuba as a risky investment and the United States government is trying to deny Cuba any resources that are needed for our development.
Sixty years is a very long time. How did Cuba survive this blockade?
Up until the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist states in Europe, we had a very fruitful relationship with those countries and basically all our trades and all the resources we needed were obtained from those socialist countries back then. We traded our products for their products.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rest of the socialist countries in Europe, that situation changed and Cuba had to assert itself in the world community. So it is very difficult for Cuba in these conditions to obtain credit from an important bank in the western government, because the United States is always pressuring those banks and those governments not to offer or grant those credits to Cuba so it makes trade for Cuba very difficult. The financial resources for Cuba are very scarce. Very few banks in the world will offer credit to Cuba.
They are considering Cuba as a risky business, because the United States is pressuring them not to offer and unfortunately, the United States’ economy is one of the biggest in the world and the banks will rather have an economic and financial relationship with the United States than Cuba.
A lot has been said about the Cuban relationship with Africa. Can you explain why Cuba is in love with Africa?
We consider ourselves part of Africa. If you look at Cuban history, millions of Africans were taken to the western hemisphere as slaves and Cuba received hundreds of thousands of them and we are descendants of those Africans that were taken to Cuba.
When we think of ourselves as Cubans we understand that the roots of the African people that were taken to Cuba inform very much of who we are and if you look at our culture; our music, our paintings, the way we dance, the way we talk, the roots of the African culture is right there so we have always felt that we owe Africa a lot in what we Cubans are. That is why, for us, it is so natural for us to come back to Africa and help Africa in every way we can.
We participated in the liberation of different countries in Africa. We were in Angola for 14 years. I am a proud Cuban that was in Angola for two years, where I served in the Cuban army back in the 80s. Three hundred thousand Cubans went to Angola in a period of 14 years. We went to Ethiopia, we helped Zimbabwe, Namibia and it is only natural we do that, because we feel like we give back to Africa for the contribution Africa made for what we Cubans are. So, I wouldn’t say the relationship with Africa; we think ourselves as part of Africa.
For 60 years, other parts of the world including Africa has tried through resolutions at the United Nations to back Cuba on their cause, yet, the US embargo persists. What new strategy do you think should be employed by these countries to assist Cuba?
The resolution is passed every year and I think it is important to keep going to the United Nations Assembly and having that resolution passed. It doesn’t matter if the United States publicly acts otherwise but I am sure that it takes that very well into account that of course, it depends on what kind of administration and the view of the current and past administration decided on how to deal with Cuba.
If you look at the last two years of the Obama administration, he adopted a different kind of approach on how to deal with Cuba and he was very much publicly against the blockade even though he didn’t do everything at his disposal to deal with the blockade but he was publicly against the blockade. But now this new administration got into office and is implementing not just every rule against Cuba that is part of the blockade but is going further than any other president has with the blockade on Cuba.
That resolution needs to be taken to the United Nation, because it is the whole world denouncing the United States for that policy even though publicly they act like they don’t care. I know that they do and take note of the recommendation of the world but I also think that the people around the world need to work harder into denouncing the United States action and making a public denouncement of it. The effect of the blockade is not only on Cuba but the other countries, because the blockade has an extraterritorial effect.
If you are able to Google the law in the United States to sue a company from a different country, then, you are infringing on that country’s sovereignty. So, it is also a matter of realising for the people around the world that the blockade also affects them in the same way it affects the dignity of the people. They don’t have to go by a law that is passed by a congress in a different country. So, it is not only Cuba it affects; it also affects the sovereignty and dignity of the people of the world.
How will you describe the relationship between Nigeria and Cuba?
The relationship politically is very good but I am not into all the details of the political or economic relationship but I think like any other country, there are potential to develop that relationship especially, in the economic field. I think there are things that we could do that would help each other in terms of trade or in terms of products that Cuba could provide to Nigeria or Nigeria can provide to Cuba. I think that there is room for development in that area even though it is an area, which I am not well informed.
In the past few days, you have had programmes organised by Nigeria-Cuba solidarity movement. Recently, a protest was held at the embassy. What did the protest stand to achieve?
It is part of what our friends from Africa decided to do in order to let the US government know that the people of Africa are very much against the policies that the United States is applying to Cuba and trying to make the Cuban people change the way we organize ourselves. So, it is our friends here that decided to take it to the US embassy and let them know that most Africans are not in support of what the United States is doing and further than that they are against it and the US government should lift the embargo.
How will you describe Fidel Castro, his revolution and present-day Cuba?
For me, Fidel Castro is a giant in history and he will forever be the historical leader of the Cubans seeing that Castro wasn’t bigger than the island of Cuba and he was a leader for the world and one day he would be recognised and I know most people recognised that but I know someday officially he would be recognised around the world, because his thinking went further than the Cuban frontiers.
He was thinking about humanity and he was thinking of how to improve the lives of most humanity not only for Cubans but of the whole world. He is dead but the revolution he led still lives and the people were the ones who carried out the revolution. He led us and we are proud followers of Fidel but I am telling you this because most people in the western world influenced by the western media portray Fidel and Cuba that when Fidel passed on, the Cuban revolution would be over and the fact is that he passed away but the ideas are still there and those are the ideas that we are following.
The revolution is there and the revolution will always be there and we will always keep his thinking, his ideas and his concepts very much alive even though he is not there. The Cuban revolution even though he was our leader and he will always be our leader, never depended on him personally; it depends on our people, who are the ones that carried out the revolution.