Cuba Counting On Uganda’s Support – Ambassador Gerardo

Cuba’s Director General of Diplomatic Affairs, Gerardo Penalver Portal
Cuba’s Director General of Diplomatic Affairs, Gerardo Penalver Portal

Caribbean island nation, Cuba is counting on Uganda’s support to help end the more than half a century economic embargo imposed by the United States of America (USA).

This was revealed by Cuba’s Director General of Diplomatic Affairs, Ambassador Gerardo Penalver Portal during an interview with this reporter at the Cuban Embassy in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

The ambassador was in Uganda for a two day visit in which he extended an invitation to the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa who also doubles as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) president.

“We are counting on Uganda’s support to help eliminate the blockade. I have actually invited the foreign minister Sam Kuteesa to visit Cuba,” Ambassador Gerardo said last Thursday.

Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Kaguta Musevi (L) attend a meeting at Revolution Palace, in Havana, on November 30, 2009. Yoweri Kaguta Musevi is in Cuba in a two-day official visit.  AFP PHOTO/JOSE GOITIA-POOL (Photo credit should read JOSE GOITIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Kaguta Musevi (L) attend a meeting at Revolution Palace, in Havana, on November 30, 2009. Yoweri Kaguta Musevi was in Cuba on a two-day official visit. AFP PHOTO/JOSE GOITIA-POOL (Photo credit should read JOSE GOITIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Uganda and Cuba enjoy warm relations and the Director General highlighted this fact during the interview saying his country would like to expand the scope of cooperation with the East African nation.

“Our relationship with Uganda goes back 40 years. We have a healthy collaboration in the field of education, health and we would like to expand this cooperation. Uganda has also supported Cuba,” he said before adding, “It is a positive conjuncture, we should take advantage of this new opportunity.”

3,800 Africans have been trained in Cuba and some at the Latin America school of medicine.  150 Ugandans have so far graduated from Cuba and between 30 – 40 students from here are currently pursuing their education on Cuban scholarship.

His visit to Uganda follows a thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States for more than half a century.

Since 1960, the US has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba.

However, on December 17, 2014, US President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro announced that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than fifty years. The announcement followed a prisoner swap: The three still-jailed members of the Cuban Five (one had been released in 2011 and another earlier in 2014) were released in exchange for a U.S. intelligence asset, Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, who had been imprisoned in Havana for nearly twenty years.

Cuba's president Raul Castro (L) during his historic meeting the US leader Obama in Panama
Cuba’s president Raul Castro (L) during his historic meeting the US leader Obama in Panama

The agreement came after eighteen months of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials that were encouraged and brokered by Pope Francis.

Gerardo was quick to point out the support of the African continent to Cuba saying, “All 54 members of the AU have supported the Cuban cause.”

He added, “The last African Union (AU) session in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa passed a resolution welcoming the new dispensation between Cuba and the US. We will never forget Africa, we share the same values, causes and goals.”

Asked to comment on what the new relationship between Cuba and Africa will be following the opening between Havana and Washington, Gerardo said the relationship with Africa will always be given top priority.

“We will always give priority to our relationship with Africa. We have embassies in 39 African countries while Cuba plays host to 21 African embassies, the largest number in Latin America. This speaks volumes about the cordial relationship Cuba has with Africa,” he said and added that, “We are currently in the process of updating our economic model to open more opportunities with Africa.”

French President Francois Hollande (L) and the Historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro in Havana on May 11
French President Francois Hollande (L) and the Historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro in Havana on May 11

Cuba and Fidel Castro’s revolution are credited for inspiring African resistance movements that rose up in the second half of the 20th century to challenge western led colonialsm.

CUBA NOT COMPROMISED

There have been rumors that by accepting the new dispensation, Cuba had compromised on some issues, however, Gerardo was quick to dismiss these as baseless.

“After 55 years, Obama realized that the policies of former US presidents isolated his country. Therefore, his decision is a positive step,” Gerardo remarked before adding, “It is a victory for Cuba, we did not change policies, it was reached at with the help of the international community especially the African Union.”

The diplomat however, said that the process of normalizing relations will take a long time but they are optimistic.

“There are three principles that have to be solved for negotiations on the normalization of relations to begin. These include; removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror, provision of financial services to the Cuban mission in Washington and reaching a common ground on the interpretation of the Geneva treaty to which both parties are signatories,” Gerardo explained.

According to the Director General, the two nations have already started technical dialogue on human rights.

The process also includes; cessation of illegal transmissions by the US against Cuba and compensation for the human and economic damages resulting from the embargo.

The Cuban Ambassador to Uganda H.E Francisco Javier Viamontes
The Cuban Ambassador to Uganda H.E Francisco Javier Viamontes

The Cuban government estimates that more than fifty years of stringent trade restrictions has amounted to a loss of $1.126 trillion.

Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The tumultuous U.S.-Cuba relationship has its roots in the Cold War. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries seized power in Havana, overthrowing Fulgencio Batista. Despite misgivings about Castro’s communist political ideology, the United States recognized his government. However, as Castro’s regime increased trade with the Soviet Union, nationalized U.S.-owned properties, and hiked taxes on American imports, the United States responded with escalating economic retaliation. After slashing Cuban sugar imports, Washington instituted a ban on nearly all exports to Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy expanded into a full economic embargo that included stringent travel restrictions.

In 1961 the United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba and began pursuing covert operations to overthrow the Castro regime. The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, a botched CIA-backed attempt to topple the government, fueled Cuban mistrust and nationalism, leading to a secret agreement allowing the Soviet Union to build a missile base on the island. The United States discovered those plans in October of 1962, setting off a fourteen-day standoff. U.S. ships imposed a naval quarantine around the island, and Kennedy demanded the destruction of the missile sites. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended with an agreement that the sites would be dismantled if the United States pledged not to invade Cuba; the United States also secretly agreed to remove nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Following the events of 1961–62, economic and diplomatic isolation became the major prongs of U.S. policy toward Cuba. This continued even after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Washington strengthened the embargo with the 1992 Cuba Democracy Act and 1996 Helms-Burton Act (PDF), which state that the embargo may not be lifted until Cuba holds free and fair elections and transitions to a democratic government that excludes the Castros. (Raul has said he will leave office in 2018.) Some adjustments have been made to the trade embargo to allow for the export of some U.S. medical supplies and agricultural products to the island.

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