Interview with Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal with the radio program America Latina al Dia (ALAD), Co-Op Radio Vancouver 100.5 FM, September 29, 2018.
ALAD: Good afternoon, thank you so much for joining us today Ambassador. To begin, can you speak to the feeling of Cubans in this Post-Castro Cuba.
Ambassador Vidal: Good afternoon, it's a pleasure to be with you this afternoon from Ottawa in Canada. Concerning your questions, I can tell you that for more than 20 years now Cuba has been going through many changes, important changes, particularly since 2011 when a process of important transformations in our economy and social model has been taking place. This process of transformation was dictated by changes that took place in the international situation - including the reinforcement of the US blockade against Cuba, but also some important domestic needs, mainly in achieving a more efficient economy and improving the standard of living of the population.
All those changes I have to say are happening within socialism. Keeping the social achievements which are very important for us, we are very proud of, like universal education and health care and social security. In essence, what we are doing in Cuba is making changes within continuity with the goal of improving our development model. With the goal of building a more democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation within socialism. We will never go back to the past. This is a decision that is supported by the majority of the Cuban population and the same applies to the recent changes that have taken place in the head of our government with the election last April of a new President, Miguel Diaz-Canal. I have to say that he is, of course, a generational change, but there is no rupture with the goals I just described for you and the direction that the country is taking was decided more than seven years ago by the Cuban Communist Party in its 6th and 7th Congress, and then by the Cuban parliament after a big popular debate in the whole country.
ALAD: There are several proposed changes to the Constitution including recognizing private property and making same-sex marriages legal in the country by changing the constitution to define marriage as a union between two people – what can you tell us about that?
Ambassador Vidal: Yes, there is a very important process going on in Cuba, which is the constitutional reform. This process responds to the important economic and social changes which have been taking place in recent years in Cuba as I already explained. This is really a genuine democratic exercise in which the whole Cuban population has become a sort of constituent assembly, to express its opinions and amendments to the Draft Constitution which was prepared by the Constitutional Commission made up of political leaders of different social organizations and also many lawyers, and members of the Cuban Parliament, and having already been enriched by the Cuban parliament itself. Now what is happening is a huge popular debate all over the country, even Cubans abroad in other countries in the world are invited to express their opinions and views and should suggest changes to the constitution. After this whole debate finishes in the next few months, the draft of the constitution will go to a referendum in February next year. This new constitution will consolidate the continuity to our socialist system and, as I already said, ratify things that are already there for the Cuban people such as the principles of social justice and humanism that are very important characteristics of our political, economic and social system.
Concerning the main changes that are proposed in the draft of the new constitution, if you allow me, I can mention just a few. For example, the new constitution will ratify and give more space to the principles that sustain Cuban foreign policy. Specifically in incorporates some new principles that we have followed for many years but are not reflected in the current constitution - such as the respect for international law and multilateralism, the fight against terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and the respect for human rights.
Another important change is that it reinforces socialist property as an essential principle of our economic model, but at the same time recognizes some role for the market and new forms of non-state property are recognized. For example, cooperative property, private property, personal property and mixed property. Of course, the big state socialist enterprise continues to be the main economic actor in Cuba and the state will continue directing, regulating and controlling the economic activity in the county.
Another change is that all types of citizens rights are expanding to guarantee equality and non-discrimination of any kind. A new right, for example, for the projection of old age people will be incorporated into this draft. New rights in the areas of justice and due process are recognized too. Marriage is also defined not anymore as the union between a man and a woman, but as a union between two persons - which is something very advanced in our constitution. And also, regarding the structure of the state and the government, the figures of the President of the Republic as the head of state and the Prime Minister in charge of the government are incorporated. That didn't exist before. More properties are also going to be given to the municipal governments. These are among the most important changes that are included in the draft that is being discussed now by the Cuban population.
ALAD: What is the status of US – Cuban relations? We know that under former President Obama, there was a historic visit to Cuba and talks of diplomatic relations seemed to go in the proper direction, however with the new government in the United States, what is the status the economic blockade against the island?
Ambassador Vidal: During the last two years of the Obama administration some progress was made in bilateral relations, and a process towards the normalization of relations was launched. I have to say that there is now a setback. The Trump administration has gone back to confrontation mode with Cuba. He has decided to stop the process towards the normalization of relations and has issued a new policy which is a policy to reinforce the U.S. approach towards Cuba. As a result, the U.S. blockade has been again strengthened. New restrictions have been imposed again on travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba, and there is a setback in general in the bilateral relations. The bilateral climate has deteriorated, and at the same time, some exchanges between the two governments have been discontinued.
The blockade is there. President Obama did not lift the blockade; he didn’t. It is up to the U.S. Congress to decide. This is a reality that we have to continue to face. That is why Cuba will go again this year, as we have been doing in the last 25 years, to the United National General Assembly to present a resolution demanding the U.S. government to put an end to the blockade imposed on Cuba.
ALAD: Thank you very much, Ambassador, for attending our call. DO you wish to send a message to Canadians? Anything that we should be working within solidarity with the people of Cuba and the process?
Ambassador Vidal: You know that Cuba and Canada have had a positive and long-lasting relationship for many many years. We are very grateful to all Canadians who have been supporting Cuba for such a long time. There are many Canadians who visit Cuba every year. Strong bonds exist between the Canadian and Cuba peoples. Canadians are very welcome in Cuba; we will continue welcoming them. Cuba is a very close, safe and friendly destination for Canadians.
In summary, Canada is a very important country for Cuba. It is the first source of tourists for Cuba, the second largest foreign investor, and our fourth largest trading partner. But, we would like Canada to become a more relevant actor in the development of the Cuban economy, and this is part of my task here; to continue strengthening and expanding bilateral relations between Cuba and Canada. It is going to be my endeavour while I am here in Canada, to continue doing what has begun many years ago.
ALAD: Thank you very much, Ambassador Josefina Vidal.
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