The United States and NATO must seriously and realistically address substantiated demands for security guarantees from Russia, which has the right to defend itself. Cuba advocates a diplomatic solution through constructive and respectful dialogue, and calls for the preservation of international peace and security ~ Gustavo Tristá Del Todo
The crisis in Ukraine that has been shaking international relations over recent weeks is being compared by many analysts to one of the critical junctures of the Cold War: 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis. According to Cuban Ambassador Gustavo Trista Del Todo, speaking in this CorD Magazine interview, the only way to halt this conflict is to return to dialogue. This former Belgrade student and current ambassador to Serbia, who has amassed many years of experience, says that relations between the two countries are at an enviable level and are characterised by a high degree of understanding and cooperation. On the eve of the 120th anniversary of the establishing of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the ambassador says that there is room to strengthen economic cooperation, with the health sector able to represent an important pillar of that cooperation.
Your Excellency, you’ve already spent several years in Serbia, a country you know well from your student days. How would you evaluate current relations between Cuba and Serbia?
In my opinion, relations between Cuba and Serbia are going through a good moment. With the visits of presidents Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić to Havana, and subsequent visits by the presidents of the national assemblies of both countries – Maja Gojković and Esteban Lazo Hernández – a positive level of dialogue has been maintained between both sides and there are no open issues hampering in our relations, but there are common elements in our respective foreign policies.
An example of this is the participation of our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Pedro Luis Pedroso, in the high-level meeting to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the First Summit Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was held in Belgrade last October.
The Serbian and Cuban foreign ministers, Nikola Selaković and Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, met in New York last September. In their conversation it was assessed that relations between the two countries are traditionally excellent and characterised by intense dialogue, a high degree of agreement and the closeness of political positions on key international issues.
Last December’s 9th Session of Political Consultations between the two foreign ministries was held in Havana, during which both sides expressed a willingness to continue strengthening politicaldiplomatic and economic-commercial relations. For this reason, a delegation led by State Secretary Nemanja Starović travelled to the Cuban capital and, in addition to talks with his counterpart, Vice Minister Anayansi Rodriguez, he had an intense agenda of meetings with various figures from political, economic and cultural life.
This year will mark the significant anniversary of 120 years since the establishing of diplomatic relations between our two countries. What do you consider as the biggest challenges of the future?
We must work to maintain the ascending tendency of bilateral relations, for which solid foundations exist that were established over many years and are being strengthened since 1959, with the Victory of the Cuban Revolution. Since that date we have been together in the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement and we cooperate in various international scenarios, while we jointly carry out commercial and cultural actions.
However, economic-commercial collaboration was not at the same level as political developments. This is influenced by very important factors, such as geographical distance and, in our case, the ironclad U.S. blockade that limits development. I therefore believe that we must work to achieve superior results in that area.
We must work to maintain the ascending tendency of bilateral relations, for which solid foundations exist that were established over many years and are being strengthened since 1959, with the Victory of the Cuban Revolution
Cuban history, culture and music are all very popular in Serbia. How interesting is Serbia to Cubans and how do you engage in that area when it comes to strengthening cooperation?
I always say that culture is the soul of peoples, and that’s why we work with the interest to develop initiatives, with the active support of the institutions of both countries, despite the pandemic.
This has facilitated, for example, performances of Cuban artists at the Belgrade Ballet Festival, thanks above all to the drive and decision of Professor Aja Jung, who is familiar with the quality of our dancers. The Malpaso company should soon present itself with its innovative performance, which is worth enjoying.
Some of our most important popular musical bands have also performed in Belgrade and made people from the country’s various salsa schools dance. The skilfulness shown by those people in performing to our rhythms causes astonishment, despite the fact that most of them have not visited our country.
For Cubans, Serbia is very interesting because of its history, its beauty, the development achieved and, above all, the similarity between our two nations. This is very impressive given the distance and the two nations being located in areas as far apart as the Balkans and the Caribbean.
Do you see the possibilities for existing good relations and understanding in the political domain to be translated into stronger cooperation on the economic front?
As I stated earlier, this is our great challenge, which in my opinion can be achieved. We just have to work together, to analyse all the options, possible projects and their viability, especially in the financial department, starting with proper conditions. There must be a fast and decisive reaction for each of them.
Interest in cooperating with Cuba in the medical field exists in Serbia. Is tangible progress already occurring in this area?
In my opinion, medicine should be one of the pillars of our cooperation. Nobody is unaware of the development of Cuban medicine based on the political will of the State, promoted by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro since the very Victory of the Revolution.
The integral system of completely free care covers the entire population and extends throughout the country, via various programmes, to even the most remote places. There is an education system directed towards training higher level professionals in various specialities, also at no cost to students and with wide access to it. Nurses and paramedics with high technical qualifications are also trained in the same way.
Advances in research are applied massively in the treatment of various illnesses. Our scientists have managed to create unprecedented medicines for the treatment of diseases like lung cancer, reducing the risk of diabetic foot amputation or eradicating the transmission of HIV AIDS from mother to child.
Such development has facilitated Cuba’s aid to more than a hundred countries in the form of health brigades, which reach the most remote parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. There they attend to patients of any social status, including poor populations who ordinarily lack the possibility of accessing medical assistance.
There is also the “Henry Reeve” International Contingent of Doctors Specialised in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, the mission of which is to provide assistance to populations around the world who fall victim to natural disasters and infectious diseases, as well as to support their recovery. Its actions have included assistance in cases of earthquakes, floods or plagues like Ebola or cholera. That’s why this contingent has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Cuba is home to the Latin American School of Medicine, which was founded to train doctors who meet the growinSuch developmentg demand for primary healthcare in various regions of Latin America and other parts of the world, while they also provide services in their own countries once they graduate.
You’ve said that Serbian citizens, with whom you can also converse in Serbian, which you speak well, have asked you what’s happening with the Cuban vaccine against covid-19?
The work of our scientists has certainly made it possible to create three vaccines against Covid: Sovereign 02, Abdala and Soberana Plus as a booster, thanks to which 90% of the population has been immunised with three doses, including children from the age of two, and reached enviable figures of around 500 newly infected daily and about five deaths. Two others, Soberana 01 and Mambisa, are still under development, the latter being for nasal use.
I must say that these results were achieved due to the early development of mass vaccination programmes since 1959, with products from our own research institutes. These instates are currently grouped together in BioCubaFarma, a state-owned business organisation that produces medicines, equipment and high-tech services for the improvement of human health. The creators of the vaccines are the Finlay Institute for Vaccines (IFV) and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB).
Unver the conditions of a country besieged by the most aggressive force in history, and with few resources, this is undoubtedly a true accomplishment.
Serbian friends are often interested in learning more about the matter, and some even say that they’re waiting to get immunised with a Cuban vaccine. I respond to all of them by saying that they shouldn’t delay, as we are still in the process of immunising our own population and the smartest thing is to take advantage of the capacities guaranteed here. Anyway, I am an advocate of the need to be vaccinated, for the good of our own health and the health of our families and all those around us.
The determination of the United States to impose the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation is a threat to the national security of this country and to regional and international peace
Cuba supports the principle of Serbia’s territorial integrity and thus doesn’t recognise Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence. Has the government in Havana ever considered changing its stance on Kosovo?
Cuba has never considered a change of its position regarding Serbia’s sovereignty over its entire territory. This is a principled position of support for a friendly country and there is no reason to change it.
Reciprocally, Serbia supports international initiatives aimed at compelling the U.S. to lift its sanctions against Cuba. These sanctions have been in place for 60 years and it’s interesting that they’ve remained in force even after the political changes in Cuba?
It was in 1959 that the U.S. government first took steps to try to isolate Cuba and sink its economy, including the abolition of the sugar quota and refusals to supply and refine oil by the U.S. petroleum companies that had monopolised it.
On 3rd February 1962, the then President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, signed Executive Order 3447, which formally imposed the economic, commercial and financial blockade. This measure was accompanied by a secret programme of terrorist activity that included plans to assassinate Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders, as well as subversive, espionage, media and diplomatic isolation operations that were meant to ultimately lead to a direct U.S. invasion. On 31st May 1964, the blockade was extended to a total ban on exports of medicines and food.
It was later expanded with new measures, including the application of laws like Torricelli and Helms- Burton, which sought to leave the population hungry and miserable. This has been the policy applied by the successive administrations of 13 presidents, undoubtedly a historic record, and it is the main obstacle to my country’s development. It is not an embargo, since it is not a mere economic decision, but rather the blockading of a place besieged and harassed by a very powerful enemy that is pursuing its annihilation.
Barack Obama tried to apply a new dynamic with the same objective of destroying the Revolution with more flexible methods, which facilitated the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, among other things. But the arrival of Donald Trump halted that trend and returned to the previous rhetoric, in the framework of which he issued 243 new measures that have not been abolished by his successor John Biden, despite his promises to apply a similar policy to that of his Democratic Party predecessor.
Anti-Cuban campaigns have been an active part of the arsenal of measures against our small Caribbean island. For example, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom includes the island on the State Department’s Special Watch List for alleged restrictions in this area. It is an undeniable fact that the authorities fully accept the right of the population to worship the religion of their choice, and to create conditions to do so.
An example of the international recognition of this policy was the historic meeting in Havana between Pope Francis and the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia in 2016, when both of them spoke about combining efforts for the benefit of the common good.
With Raúl Castro having stepped down from his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, last year saw the end of an epoch in the history of Cuba – one that was mostly marked by Fidel Castro and the country’s strong commitment to leftist ideals. But the new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, also hails from the Communist Party. Will Cuba nonetheless have to change and, if so, how?
The changes that the enemies of the Revolution yearn for have not taken place in Cuba, nor will they. The new authorities, headed by the First Secretary of the Communist Party, remain faithful to the legacies of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro and Army General Raúl Castro, applying their teachings under the new historical circumstances facing the country.
The President himself has expressed that it is only possible to give continuity to the work, together with the generations born and educated in the Revolution and the founding generation, without giving in to pressure, without fear and without setbacks.
The world has been shaken by the crisis in Ukraine, which media have described as representing a realistic possibility of a new world war. Do you see similarities between today’s sharpening rhetoric between Russia and the U.S. and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis?
The determination of the United States to impose the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation is a threat to the national security of this country and to regional and international peace. The U.S. government has spent weeks threatening Russia and manipulating the international community regarding the threat of an imminent massive invasion of Ukraine. It has supplied weapons and military technology, deployed troops to various countries in the region, applied unilateral and unjust sanctions, and threatened other repercussions, while at the same time unleashing an anti-Russian propaganda campaign.
Our country has previously warned about the danger of this kind of politics. The United States and NATO must seriously and realistically address substantiated demands for security guarantees from Russia, which has the right to defend itself. Cuba advocates a diplomatic solution through constructive and respectful dialogue, and calls for the preservation of international peace and security.
In my opinion, medicine should be one of the pillars of our cooperation
Cuba has never considered a change of its position regarding Serbia’s sovereignty over its entire territory
The changes that the enemies of the Revolution yearn for have not taken place in Cuba, nor will they