Red Lines host Anya Parampil speaks with Carlos F. de Cossio, the Director General of the United States for Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, about continuing US attempts to overthrow his country’s government.
By Anya Parampil
ANYA PARAMPIL: Director General Carlos de Cossio, thank you so much for speaking with me this afternoon. President Miguel Díaz-Canel just gave an address before the UN General Assembly, in which he denounced what he described as US attempts to reinstate a Monroe Doctrine policy. This was a policy explicitly articulated by Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, when he famously declared the Monroe Doctrine is back. Yet is Biden actually continuing this policy?
CARLOS DE COSSIO: The Biden administration has not said a word that we know about it. But in practical terms, what we see of the Biden government is a continuation of the Trump policy towards Cuba specifically, and to Latin America and the Caribbean in general, we don’t see a major change, even though the rhetoric is not the same. And there’s no official or explicit ratification of the model. But we will see truly a real change, we have to understand that this moral doctrine implies for the people and the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, and attempt to impose US willingness over the sovereignty and self determination of the rest of the nations of the hemisphere. And that’s how it’s understood, in spite of the fact that john bolton during the Trump administration used to boast about it.
AP: Can you define what the Monroe Doctrine policy is, specifically from the Cuban perspective?
CdC: Biden, President Biden, his speech mentioned, a few countries, I found that he forgot to mention the United States protest, social problems, injustice, lack of respect for human rights, abuse by the police in the United States, which being the president of this country, who would be fair will be expected for him to mention United States or for him to mention some of its allies around the world where you have very serious problems of this type. In the case of Cuba, specifically, we have to understand that the US government and us political class, to a great extent, has a failed to understand and fails to accept that Cuba is and has the right to be a sovereign nation.
AP: So as a diplomat, how you deal with a country which views you in this way? How is it working with the Biden Administration so far? Do you have any idea whether or not it will return to the Obama era policy of normalization with Cuba?
CdC: My job is to deal with the issue of the bilateral relationship with the United States in Cuba, which is a challenging task. We formally have diplomatic relations, even though exchange is to the minimum, we have important amount of Cubans living in the United States, they are descendants of Cubans in the United States, we share a border, there’s a part of Cuban territory occupied militarily by the government of the United States, against the will, of the Cuban people. We share an area of the world where there is drug trafficking, criminal activity, where there’s illegal actions of all types, whether environmental problems, and yet there’s very little communication between us. We had a moment of increased cooperation, of increasing engagement, recognizing that we had then differences and that we would continue to have them, which is normal between two nations. But we had cooperation, we had the possibility to engage in a civilized manner, to discuss both of our differences, but also to discuss about those areas where we can identify common interests where we can we believe that we can work together both for the benefit of our respective countries, our respective people, but also for the benefit of the region. What explains that Cuba and the United States cannot cooperate, for example, in fighting COVID in our region, or in fighting crime in our region, or in fighting drug trafficking in our region? And the only reason is the lack of political willingness in the United States. There was a change in this understanding at the end of the Obama government, it seemed when one looked at the electoral campaign in the United States, but one look at what the government of then candidate Biden will do that there was an intention to make a change. There hasn’t been the announcement of a revision, which very comfortably gives the government the impression or it allows the government to give the impression that it is taking a distance from the Trump period on the Trump government. But at the same time, there’s nothing implying that it is faithfully applying the same policy, as the government of Trump did against you. I’ll give you an example. We haven’t spoken with anyone in the administration. And we haven’t spoken with any politician that can with a straight face tell us that Cuba is a country that sponsors terrorists. Nobody in the United States that has a little knowledge about our region, and about Cuba, can honestly say that Cuba is a state that sponsors terrorism. Nobody in the Obama administration believes so and that’s why it was changed. Trump was criticized when he made the attempt to do it, before he did. Then the Trump government included Cuba in the list that is published by the State Department that one would think would have been changed in a government with people that don’t believe what that list implies, in the case of Cuba, yet no change has happened. Now it’s not only that we are concerned with slandering. It’s not only that well, that we are offended when we are accused of sponsoring terrorism. The problem is that that list has practical impacts, the overwhelming influence, and weight of the United States around the world implies that in many parts of the world, Cuba runs into trouble trying to do business, trying to interact. Several banks from different countries around the world have refused to continue business with Cuba, just because Cuba was put in that list. And they fear even though they are in a different jurisdiction, under the sovereignty of another government, they fear that their interest, above all, if they have interest in United States could be jeopardized if they continue to attract. So it’s not only symbolic, it’s something that has concrete impact that has consequences for the lives of millions of people. Once you damage the Cuban economy, you impact the lives and the standard of living of millions of cubans.
AP: Some say that was actually a strategy employed by the Obama administration, aimed at liberalizing Cuba and making it more ripe for US influence to come in.
CdC: I won’t question it. The government, well Obama said so, explicitly so there’s no point in me questioning it. And it’s a challenge for us. Truly greater engagement with the United States, greater communication, greater presence of American business in Cuba is a political challenge. It’s an ideological challenge. But we believe that we need to engage with the rest of the world. In that matter, it will have political implications. We hope, we knew it then. We know it now. But we believe that we should continue to engage peacefully with any countries in the world as we do with the rest of the world. It’s only with United States, it’s the only government that has chosen to have this type of hostile relationship [with Cuba].
AP: And we saw the impact of that policy, specifically this year, when Cuba was hit with demonstrations which the United States supported and exploited. We covered that in depth at The Grayzone, the connections between, for example, the San Isidro Movement, and the US State Department, open connections with US intelligence. So before we get into US meddling in Cuba, I’m just wondering, do you think any of the grievances expressed by those protests were legitimate?
CdC: It’s a very hard time for Cuba social economy, as it is, in many parts of the world as a result of COVID, as a result of the international crisis, both of which have a huge impact in the Cuban economy, and the capacity or our economy to respond to the needs of the population. There are also grievances as a result of the impact of the economic blockade, you have to take into account that the US government chose to identify COVID as an ally in this hostility towards Cuba. Instead of thinking, let’s take this opportunity to express a humanitarian concern, to offer an exception with humanitarian concern aimed towards Cuba, it chose to be that COVID would help the goals of the US government during the Trump administration, but there has been no change with the Biden administration. So those realities were there. There are also people who are suffering blackouts. Power shortages, which occur in Cuba because of problems with our grid or infrastructure, but also because the US government took a policy commitment in mid 2019 to deprive Cuba from supplies of oil. These are the types of measures that you take under war conditions. There’s no war between Cuba and the United States. And yet since 2019, the US government has been sanctioning, applying pressures against the exporters of oil, the producers of oil, the shipping companies, the insurance of the shipping companies, so that oil does not arrive to Cuba. All that is very costly for Cuba to order the fuel that we need for running a car, or economy, or our services in general, including electricity. So we had blackouts in the summer. If you live in a community, it is difficult to obtain your basic needs, including food, because you have to wait in queues. There’s a scarcity of products, you have blackouts, there’s lack of medicine in many of the drugstores, because we don’t have the raw material to produce the medicines or the drugs that you need, not for COVID, for chronic diseases. In addition to that, if you have the heat, and you have a difficult condition. You also have people who disagree with the government, you have people who want to migrate to the United States, and you can’t, because the US has shut down the migratory services. And you have people who don’t believe in socialism, there are people who believe that capitalism is their solution. There are people who believe that they want to move to the United States because they have a dream of becoming millionaires and Cuba does not give them that opportunity to become a millionaire, or improve their livelihoods and are unhappy in the way they are. And then you add to that, what you mentioned, which is direct incentives from abroad, direct mobilization, or direct encouragement with a promise of payments for people to walk in the street, then you have what you experience on July 11. And I need to clarify, we’re not speaking of demonstrations during the summer. We’re speaking of demonstrations on that day, on July of this year, the majority of the population of the people that went out in the streets, many of which, in pictures around the world, came out in support of the government afterwards, not to fight, not to coerce, but simply to be present in the street and to express support for the government. The army didn’t go out into the street, you didn’t see the military in the street, as you do in Latin America, awfully. As you have with the National Guard in the United States. That does not and did not occur in Cuba.
AP: You had fake images of protests in Egypt circulating, people claiming that that was Cuba.
CdC: And in Buenos Aires, and images of a pro government rally in Cuba being portrayed as a rally against the government. And that was not by obscure media. This was by main media.
AP: And some of what you just mentioned in terms of fuel shortages, for example, actually demonstrate how US policy on Venezuela impacts Cubans, correct?
CdC: That’s correct. If one looks at the excuses, and this is very interesting. If one looks at the excuses, used by the Trump government, to punish Cuba. They were all circling around Venezuela. It was the narrative with the legend that Cuba had over 20,000 troops in Venezuela. That were coercing the Venezuelan army, that, by the way, is larger than the Cuban army, that we are coercing the Venezuelan government. And that was the reason why US policy of defeating the government and inventing this, Guaidó or whoever, the President in Venezuela, was failing. So because of that, they started to apply on a monthly and sometimes on a weekly basis, coercive measures against Cuba, in addition to the economic blockade. The whole narrative was based on that. That’s the basis for which title three of Helms-Burton was applied. That’s the reason why they took measures to deprive us of oil. That’s the reason why they shut down remittances to Cuba. And that’s the main reason used to put us in the list of countries that allegedly sponsored terrorism. Now, the Biden government has not repeated that. It has never said it’s linked to the so called 20,000 troops that nobody has ever called one in Venezuela. But yet it continues to faithfully apply the same policy.
AP: How did the decision to lockdown, particularly to lockdown and shut down all tourism in Cuba, impact the political situation and the economy? Because I’m sure that had a disproportionate effect on the poor.
CdC: We’ve had to shut down because of COVID, many workplaces and services, education, administration, and in many areas, and as in every country, it depresses you. Restaurants, anything, so anything that implies social activity, and that has an impact on the economy. We had to shut down tourism, which is a main source of income for our country. And our country continues shut down by tourism, implying that the huge cost of isolating people, of hospitalizing each and everybody infected with COVID, giving them three meals a day, all at the cost of the government, three meals a day, supporting all the personnel that you have to mobilize for that: housing them, giving them three meals a day, all that is a huge cost, burden on the economy at a moment when we have very, very limited sources of income. So for us to act is very difficult.
AP: How did the fact that Cuba has been under a blockade for so long, essentially cut off from the international economy, uniquely position it to respond to COVID-19, particularly in terms of medical innovation, and, and development of vaccines?
CdC: We had a very successful result in 2020, with a low level of infection, and low levels of death, It was in the first quarter of this year, that we, with the introduction of the Delta variant, that we started to have a more severe situation in the country. From the beginning of the pandemic, we started to cooperate with other countries, send brigades to countries we have worked in the past. Just in Latin America we have brigades in Venezuela, we had in Mexico, we got in Peru, we had in several Caribbean countries, in Bolivia. And we had in Italy, in several African countries, several Arab countries. So we’ve been able, I think it was around 40 countries where we sent brigades to help and to complement the effort the respective government with COVID. But another important decision that we took was in March, before there was even one person infected in Cuba, our President met with the scientific community. Cuba has had a 40 year long development in biotech and pharmaceuticals with very important results, some of a unique nature, he met with them, and he said, we need to take the spoon. other priorities make an extra effort to try to reach a vaccine. Because we might be able to cope with this in Cuba, through the typical epidemiological defenses, like wearing mask, distancing, to washing your hands. But there might be a need to go beyond that, because it’s a new virus. It’s a result of mutations, it could continue to mutate with new variants. And the vaccine would eventually be, if not only for Cuba, for the rest of the world. So we begin very early to try this. One, when the vaccine was announced in the United States, we already had two candidates in Cuba, proven at the laboratory level but with very optimistic results that needed to be tested so that it could be applied. And we were in the process of doing that, with of course, the resource limitations in Cuba, in not only in the capital established, but in the requirements that you need to escalate productions. And in spite of that, we’re able to advance at this moment, we have four vaccines in Cuba, that are being applied. Two them are the main ones that are covering the program for the country. We already have over 45% of the population vaccinated, we plan to end the month of November with 92% of the total population vaccinated, which includes children from the age of two, we’re the only country doing that. It’s proving to be successful, not only in the statistics of the test, but it’s already proven to be successful in having a drop in deaths, and a drop in infections in the urban areas where there has been a greater application or if people have been immunized with the vaccine. Some countries have asked to participate with a vaccine. Iran is one example. We’ve sold some of them and now we’re joined in production. Vietnam, we have sold to them some vaccines, we’re planning to join too, and we’ve helped other countries supplying vaccine, countries in great need. And we’re ready to do that. We’re planning to vaccinate our populations and to be ready to engage with the rest of the world.
AP: And what about the fact that in Europe, for example, where they’ve implemented the green pass, where you have to show proof of vaccination in order to enter restaurants or basically participate in public life, they don’t actually recognize the Cuban vaccine as part of that system? Why is that?
CdC: I would like to think of it as not yet. It’s true that the Cuba vaccines have not had yet a WHO recognition. It took us time, because we want it to be more severe, more thorough in the documentation, statistical evidence, medical evidence to prove because we knew Cuba was going to be challenged, because it’s a developing country, because it’s a small nation, because people want to be or are skeptical. So we want it to be more thorough than others. In putting forward documentation, that process has already begun. We are confident that the WHO should be able to, to certify the Cuban vaccine, if for no other reason, by the results that we’re having,iIn Cuba, we’re beginning to have already. So we want to believe that in European countries and in other parts, they will eventually accept the Cuban vaccine.
AP: What would you like the US audience to understand about the current state of US-Cuba relations?
CdC: That Cuba has the right to choose its own path, that Cuba has the right to self determination, and to decide the type of society that we want, that we pose no threat to the United States that we pose no animosity towards United States, of course, we reject the hostile policy of the government. But you cannot trace any sentiments of animosity among the Cuban people, towards US citizens, to Americans, in general. That we don’t ask the United States for credits. We don’t ask for preferential treatment. We don’t ask for most favored nation [status] in terms of trade. We don’t ask for long term loans in very preferential terms. We don’t ask them to pardon any law because we don’t have any problem. What we asked of the United States is to allow us to live in peace, to allow us to be a nation, as a rightful nation that has gained its right to self determination to build its own future, to cooperate with the rest of the world. The United States, no one in the government of the United States, can seriously set say that Cuba poses any threat in terms of terrorism, in terms of organized crime, in terms of drug trafficking, in terms of alien smuggling, in terms of environment, in terms of diseases. On the contrary, Cuba, for whatever reason, we are like a beacon of security for the US south eastern border. There’s no threat to the United States coming from Cuba. Now you will listen to that, or you will understand that when you listen [to] or you hear the rhetoric coming out from politicians in South Florida, and the people that have made careers, and have made a living out of hostility toward Cuba? But if you just do a little check, you don’t have to go very far, you would understand that.
AP: Well, one of the threats that we’ve heard has come from Cuba in recent years, is the so-called “Havana syndrome” and noise attacks against diplomats, US diplomats living in Havana. Why do you think this narrative has been amplified by the United States? And what is the story behind it really, from the perspective of your government?
CdC: The story is very difficult, and the origin. One could suspect many reasons. But the true origin is difficult to determine. The truth is that up to today, there is no proof whatsoever. But one single evidence that an attack took place, yet the government is speaking of attacks. There’s no evidence that the people that might have suffered from some health symptoms, suffered them because of the fact that they were in Cuba. In other words, there’s no proof that if that same person would have been in any other place in the world, including the United States, they would not have felt those same symptoms. There’s been no thorough investigation made public at least, that previous conditions, pre-existing health conditions did not have an influence in what happened. The FBI made an investigation and concluded that there was no proof of any wrongdoing by anyone. We made our own investigation and coincidentally it came to the same conclusions. We put perhaps the best team of experts that we have in Cuba, in multiple disciplines, to study and they have defeated each and every one of the different theories after another. The one of the Sonic attack? Similar to cicadas? They have defeated the ones about microwave, believing that you can send a microwave through a wall where there are five people, target one, and not the rest. For a microwave energy to cause the kind of impact in the brain and in the ear that is being alleged, there would have to be at least burning scars in the person who was [targeted], practically the head would go on fire. So a person cannot say that suddenly they began to feel dizzy, that they had headaches, all of which is possible to have occurred as a result that at some moment to which they couldn’t find out which one it was, there was a strange sound, and they received an ultrasound. Now I’m not saying that the people who have the symptoms of portraying this but the scientists that have spoken about this have been challenged in multiple locations by a court authorized scientist in the US, in Europe, and in Cuba, and scientific magazines, and publications that exist. There are already several publications on the case, and nobody [confirmed it]. And we found that the US government has not given official credit to any of these theories. But they have not rejected them either. We believe the US government is in some sort of trap at this moment. We don’t know how they can come out of it. But I can assure you that no diplomat from any country has ever had any reason to feel threatened in Cuba, I can give you a guarantee of that. And I’m sure that the majority of US diplomats that have served in Cuba since 1977, have never felt reason to believe that they can be threatened in Cuba, more than they can be threatened in any other part of the world, including many parts of the United States.
AP: And finally, we discussed the demonstrations in Cuba earlier this year, and the fact that the United States actually worked to amplify them. And one of the ways through which they did that was through producing this rap song and music video called “Patria y Vida” which was sort of a reversal or a play, you could say, on the revolutionary slogan in Cuba, “Patria o Muerte”. What is the significance of that phrase for you as a Cuban?
CdC: It’s a it’s a slogan very linked to our revolution. It’s a cry of independence, like many countries have, for Cuba, very sensitive to Cuba. It is the prevailing slogan in Cuba. This is a song that a vast majority of Cubans didn’t to pay much attention to. Because it wasn’t even unique. The first one to use the term “Patria y Vida” was Fidel Castro. He was speaking to children. He said, “Patria o muerte but it’s also patria y vida.” That was Fidel Castro. I don’t know, I’m sure that when the CIA and the different organizations in the US wanted to put together the song and pay for it, they didn’t take the trouble to check everything that Fidel had said, and they would’t have wanted to be quoting Fidel Castro.
AP: Director General Carlos de Cossio Thank you so much.
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