“With new progressive governments in the region there is a new momentum for closer ties. It’s very clear to us all that unless we work together our people will continue to suffer.”Dr Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez
By Roger McKenzie
Dr Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez is much more than the career diplomat of nearly 40 years that he described himself as to me in our interview at the Cuban ambassador’s residence in London during his current visit.
Now the director of the Research Centre for International Policy (CIPI) in Havana, Cuba, Cabanas Rodriguez became the first ambassador of Cuba to the United States in 50 years when he was appointed in September 2015.
Having held a series of other diplomatic posts in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia abroad as well as a deputy foreign minister at home, this is a man of vast experience of countering the falsehoods levelled against the Cuban revolution.
But far from just playing the role of a mere defender of the revolution, Cabanas Rodriguez is someone who is at the centre of the Caribbean island’s forward planning in the face of the illegal sanctions imposed by the US and their allies.
One of the key roles of the CIPI is developing policy scenarios on foreign policy for Cuban decision-makers.
“Our role is not just to fly in an academic sense — but also to land.
“We need to make sure that whatever research we do at CIPI has clear policy recommendations.”
Cabanas Rodriguez also explains that “an important part of our role is not just to think about international relations between countries but also to explain our foreign policy to the Cuban people.
“It’s really important to the Cuban government that the people of our country fully understand our direction in foreign policy as well as what other countries are doing.”
I ask Cabanas Rodriguez about the recent resurgence of progressive and socialist politics in Latin America.
Did he see any reasons to be optimistic following the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) meeting that recently concluded in Buenos Aires?
He says: “I think with new progressive governments in the region there is a new momentum for closer ties.
“It’s very clear to us all that unless we work together our people will continue to suffer.
“It is vital for us to face challenges such as Covid and climate change as a group.”
Responding to whether this new momentum could help to challenge the unipolar dominance of the US, Cabanas Rodriguez says: “I prefer to talk about ‘multilateralism’ rather than about moves to being part of anything multipolar.
“The problem with the term multipolar is that it is still talking about part of a ‘pole.’ We need to move away from that kind of binary approach.
“The G77, which Cuba now chairs, and the work with the Brics nations and Celac gives us the means for genuine international co-operation and will help the cause of peace across the globe.”
He adds: “One of the major problems in international relations is that everything is dominated by US political cycles. The midterm elections that have just taken place in the US had an impact as will the presidential elections which will take place next year.
“Much of the talk about unipolar, multipolar or even multilateralism is couched in terms of the role of China on the world stage.”
Cabanas Rodriguez says: “For all of their talk and actions the fact is that the US can’t compete economically with China and they are completely polarised politically in their own country.
“They also have a Third World country living inside a First World country with huge levels of poverty, homelessness and terrible levels of racism.
“The brutal murder of George Floyd was far from an isolated incident and just recently we have seen the video of the horrific killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.
“There are something like 130 million people within the US who are not able to interpret simple texts. This is not a country that is going to be able to develop a deep understanding of current events, much less keep pace with China going forward.”
Cuba, in contrast, is well known for the priority the revolution has placed on education and healthcare. As well as having one of the highest literacy levels of any country in the world, despite the blockade, Cuba also has a health service that is envied by even large parts of the US.
“In spite of the sanctions a number of US states and countries around the world want to co-operate with us on healthcare.
“Most healthcare systems just treat what they are presented with.
“In our system we treat the body as interdependent so if there is a problem with one part of the body we investigate whether this may have been caused by a problem in another part or, indeed, might cause a problem elsewhere.”
Cabanas Rodriguez knows that co-operation with the US is vital for Cuba and especially a lifting of the destructive illegal sanctions that have now been in place for more than 60 years.
“Migration flows into the US is a critical area that demands co-operation between our two countries. And so is the work we must do together against drug-trafficking and weather incidents such as hurricanes in the region.
“The tourism and travel ban has, of course, had a huge impact on the Cuban economy but it has also really hurt some very large donors to the Republican and Democratic parties in the US.
“Those big cruise ships meant a lot of money to some people so when that was stopped it hurt them too.”
He adds: “The memorandums of understanding that were signed between Cuba and the US under the Obama administration are still alive and valid and we need to find a way to implement them.
“But, as I said before, we are about to be hit by another presidential election cycle. There is no doubt that this will have a major impact on relations between Cuba and the US.”