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      "President Obama is Set to Leave Office, but the Blockade Remains"

      Talk by JosefinaVidal, director general for the United States at the Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX), during an event against the blockade organized by Cuban youth at the University of Havana, October 17, 2016
      Council of State transcript / GI translation)

      Good morning everyone.

      Thank you all very much for the invitation, to add my voice to those of young people gathered here, and the people of Cuba, as I have already done online, on social media, to the 'Cuba votes against the blockade' event; because the blockade harms the Cuban people, damages Cuba as a whole, damages the functioning of our economy, damages Cuba’s relations with third countries and those of third countries with Cuba, and even damages the relations we could have with the United States itself . For all these reasons we will vote against the blockade, and those who have not, still have the chance to on the “Cuba contra el bloqueo” (Cuba against the blockade) website.

      Before having a conversation - as I understand that this is a conversation with you and that I will take questions from you, I do not want this to be a monologue - I would like to share a few introductory thoughts - I will not be very extensive in my introduction - considering that just three days ago, there were announcements made in the United States related to Cuba, there were two announcements: first, a presidential policy directive, entitled 'United States-Cuba Normalization' and secondly, the fifth package of measures to modify the application of certain aspects of the blockade.

      There have been discussions on this, since last Friday, at the Foreign Ministry, through the Cuban press, on digital sites like Cubadebate, but I think it is important, as we had a little more time over the weekend to think about this, as these measures were announced just last Friday, October 14, to share with you some thoughts and some preliminary conclusions, which we have reached following the study and analysis of these two announcements.

      Firstly, I would like to refer to the presidential policy directive on Cuba. It is the first directive on Cuba approved and issued by President Obama who, as you know, is set to leave office in a few months, on January 20, 2017 to be exact, when a new administration, resulting from the elections to be held on November 8, will assume the leadership of that country, that is to say very soon.

      As I told some media outlets that we quickly called to MINREX last Friday, to provide our first reactions to the announcement of this directive, and I repeat today, we believe that this document is a significant step in the process toward lifting the blockade and to improving relations with Cuba.

      This is the second time a U.S. President has issued a directive providing instructions to the various branches of the federal government to initiate and conduct a process leading toward the normalization of relations with Cuba. The first to do so was President Carter in 1977, I have here a copy of the original document. This was his directive (points) indicating exploratory steps for the normalization of relations with Cuba; it was a secret document until 2002, when he asked his library to declassify it and brought it to Cuba and gave it to us in the context of his visit to our country at that time.It was a simple, brief directive, just one and a half pages and, as you know, given what happened in the history of relations with Cuba, nothing came of it, and it was not possible during his Ppresidency to advance toward the normalization of the relations.

      Now President Obama has issued a slightly longer document, its translation into Spanish has 15 pages, on which I want to offer my observations.

      This document issued by Obama establishes a guide for developing a process that in the future should lead to the normalization of relations. But keep in mind that what is reflected in this document comes from the perspective of the U.S. government, and therefore the document itself is not free of the interventionist vision that has historically marked the plans of the United States toward Cuba.

      I would like to make a brief analysis of its content, and for this I will refer, initially, to what we believe are some positive elements that appear in this directive.

      First, it is an attempt, which must be recognized, to try to ensure the future continuity of the current policy, which commenced on December 17, 2014, but only if a future president of the United States decides to follow that course. It is a policy of this Presidency and there is no obligation to follow it to the letter by future U.S. governments; perhaps some will, perhaps others not, maybe in part, maybe they will simply revoke it and emit a totally different directive. Nonetheless, we must recognize that it is a step in the right direction, leaving a guide that could be useful in a scenario in which a future President of that country wants to continue this policy.

      The document - and we believe this is the first time, according to our studies over many years - for the first time an official document of the United States government includes recognition of the independence, sovereignty, and self-determination of Cuba, which we, ever since reestablishing relations with this country, believe should be, and must remain, the essential principles on which to develop our ties going forward.

      There is also recognition in this directive, again for the first time, of the legitimacy of the Cuban government. One must understand that the policy of the United States for over 55 years included, in every aspect, the absolute non-recognition of the government of Cuba as a legitimate interlocutor; at all times Cuba’s legitimacy was denied, and that was a hallmark of all policies followed over more than five decades.

      Well, in this directive the recognition of the government of Cuba appears as a valid, serious, legitimate interlocutor and equal to the U.S. government and, in turn, there is a recognition of the benefits that achieving a relationship of civilized coexistence would produce for both countries and both peoples, within the great differences that exist and, of course, will continue to exist in the future.

      And in particular the directive resolves to continue developing ties with the Cuban government and cooperation in areas of mutual interest. And it reiterates, something President Obama has said on other occasions, that the blockade is obsolete and must be lifted, and once again urges the United States Congress to work in that direction.

      However, up to here the essential components that we believe have a favorable nuance to their treatment within the directive. But at the same time, there is a group of elements that have an interventionist trait. The directive does not hide, and from its opening paragraphs this is visible, that the objective of U.S. policy is to advance the interests of that country in Cuba, which is to promote changes in the political, economic and social order of our country. In turn, it reflects a marked interest in the development of the private sector in Cuba — we know why they emphasize this — and fundamentally questions the political system with which we Cubans have equipped ourselves.

      It does not renounce, in fact it recognizes that the use of old instruments of past policy, the policy of hostility toward Cuba, will continue in the future, and mentions in particular that the illegal radio and television broadcasts against Cuba will continue; the programs they (the U.S.) claim are aimed to “promote democracy” in Cuba and are of a subversive nature that aim to promote changes in our country will continue, and the intention remains to involve a wide range of Cuban society in the implementation of these programs.

      Finally, something which is very important — it is not the last thing said, but it’s the last thought I share with you — it clearly states that the United States does not intend to modify the treaty that resulted in the occupation of a portion of Cuban territory by the Guantánamo Naval Base.

      In short, as conclusive elements of the analysis we have conducted on the presidential policy directive for the normalization of relations with Cuba:

      It establishes a new policy based on the recognition that the previous failed. But, how did it fail? Well, it clearly states that it failed to achieve changes in Cuba that respond to the interests of the United States. Therefore, there is a change in policy, it is confirmed that there is a modification to policy, but not to the strategic objective that this policy will continue to pursue, which is to promote changes in our country. For this it (the U.S.) resorts to old methods, the long-established ones, those of the past, which I have already mentioned. In other words, this policy will continue to support instruments such as subversive programs, illegal radio and television broadcasts, the blockade restrictions that could be eliminated by executive decision and have not been, despite the full extent of executive powers that the president has and in turn, mixed, combined with those instruments of the past are new methods in line with the new bilateral reality, which is the exchanges of all kinds between Cuba and the United States, limited trade in accordance with the minimal restrictions that have been changed so far, dialogue and cooperation with the Cuban government on issues of mutual interest.

      The call on Congress to lift the blockade is reiterated, arguing that it is a heavy and obsolete burden on the people of Cuba; but, at the same time, it is clearly stated that it is important that the blockade is lifted because it constitutes an impediment to the U.S. in advancing its interests in Cuba.

      Recognized — as I said — is the self-determination and independence of Cuba, the legitimacy of the Cuban government, it is even argued that the United States does not intend to impose a new model in our country and that it corresponds to the Cuban people to make their own decisions; however, at the same time, this directive does not abandon its interventionist designs and the usual behavior of wanting to interfere in the internal affairs of our country.

      In summary, the directive in itself contains ideas and intentions that contradict the declared objective to normalize relations with Cuba.

      On this occasion, we want to reiterate once again that the will of the government of Cuba is to develop respectful and cooperative relations with the United States; but this has to be on the basis of full equality and reciprocity, absolute respect for the independence and sovereignty of Cuba and without interference of any kind.

      And more in keeping with the theme that we will address today, which is the blockade, coinciding with the presidential policy directive, last Friday, October 14, a new package of measures was also announced by the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce, to modify the application of certain aspects of the blockade.

      These measures come into effect today. The measures — as we said last Friday in preliminary statements to the press — are positive, but have a very limited scope. You only have to view their content to immediately realize this. Most are aimed at expanding transactions that had been previously approved and that, in general, have been very difficult to implement, to put into practice, as a result of the fact that a set of restrictions remain in force that prevent progress in their application.

      As a summary of these regulations, the fundamental limitations that we observe are:

      First, investments in Cuba are not permitted, and this is something that President Obama could authorize. Remember that in January 2015, and in his subsequent packages of measures, President Obama approved and authorized investments in Cuba in the field of telecommunications, which demonstrates “Yes, we can”, as states the slogan of President Obama himself; however, to date he has not chosen to use the powers he has to allow investments by U.S. companies in Cuba in many other sectors of our economy, not just in telecommunications.

      There is no expansion of U.S. exports to Cuba beyond the very limited sales that were approved in previous packages, that exclude these products from the United States from being used in essential branches of the Cuban economy.

      To give you an idea, U.S. exports to Cuba for tourism, or for energy production, or for oil drilling and exploration, or for the mining industry, are not permitted. As you can see, some of the most important industries in our economy.

      In a general sense, all bans on imports of Cuban products to the United States remain. There is one exception which was approved in this latest package of measures last Friday, finally, after many demands from certain very interested U.S. companies, which is the possibility, from now on, that Cuban pharmaceuticals be exported to the United States, it is the only exception made for products that are produced by Cuban state enterprises. In other words, Cuban state enterprises, in general, are prohibited from exporting to the United States, the only exception now are pharmaceutical products. Welcome news! Of course, we will have to wait for the United States Food and Drug Administration to certify these Cuban products in order that their marketing and distribution in the United States can be defined and materialize; but, again, we believe this is a positive step.

      I would like to draw your attention to a very curious aspect, when this package of measures was announced last Friday, one thing became world news: U.S. citizens visiting Cuba from now on will be able to buy cigars and rum without limits and take them to the United States for personal use. This has been broadcast across the world. Welcome to the U.S. citizens who can now buy cigars and rum in Cuba... It seems to me that this puts an end to a ridiculous ban, which only permitted U.S. citizens who came to Cuba to buy one music CD, one book, one work of art, as a result of an exception approved in the late 1980s, which allowed the acquisition of informative and cultural materials; however, until now they could not buy rum, or cigars, or coffee, or many other Cuban products that may be of interest and now, finally, this ban has been removed, they may do so; but, careful, take note! This does not mean that Cuban rum and cigar companies are authorized to sell their products in the United States. Therefore, the impact of this measure will be very limited in terms of the benefits the Cuban economy can report.

      Furthermore, new measures in the financial area were not announced; as you know, Cuba’s room for maneuver in the financial sector is still very restricted in terms of relations with the United States and the rest of the world. Although the use of the dollar in Cuba's international transactions was authorized last March, I reiterate that up until today, as I was checking on Saturday with Cuban counterparts, up until today, Cuba has still not been able to make cash deposits in this currency or make payments to third parties in U.S. dollars. As such, it is a measure awaiting implementation and this is due, in particular, to the fact that the world’s banks remain terrified given the risk which working and interacting with Cuba entails, and the possibility of incurring fines, as has happened considerably in recent years. And the ban on Cuba opening correspondent accounts in U.S. banks has remained unchanged.

      That is why we believe, and I repeat this today to conclude, that the new measures adopted and which take effect today, benefit the United States more than Cuba and the people of Cuba. The blockade persists. President Obama has just reiterated in the Presidential directive signed last Friday that the blockade should be lifted, but the reality is that he has not exhausted all his executive powers to contribute decisively to the dismantling and removal of the blockade. President Obama will complete his mandate within three months, he leaves, but the blockade remains. While this situation continues, Cuba will continue to present its resolution calling for the lifting of the blockade to the United Nations. We’ll do it again in nine days, on October 26, Wednesday; we invite all of you to follow the coverage of this activity which will be broadcast live from the United Nations headquarters in New York, and we hope that, as has happened in recent years, the world, as all of us have already done, will vote against the blockade.

      Thank you very much (Applause).

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