The historic crossing of Straits of Florida

President Barack Obama of the United States yesterday began his official visit to Cuba. This will be the second time a US president comes to our archipelago. The only previous US president to do so was Calvin Coolidge who landed in Havana in January of 1928.

He arrived aboard a warship to attend the 6th Pan American Conference which was being held under the sponsorship of Gerardo Machado, an infamous local character. This will be the first time a president of the United States comes to a Cuba which is in full possession of her sovereignty and with a revolution in power, headed by its historic leadership.

The March 20 to 22, 2016 event is part of the process initiated on December 17, 2014, when the President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and President Barack Obama simultaneously announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations that had been broken by the United States almost 54 years ago.

It is part of the incipient complex process of normalisation of bilateral ties and has advanced on the only grounds that are possible and just: respect, equality, reciprocity, and the recognition of our government’s legitimacy.

In the foremost place, this point has been reached as the result of the Cuban people’s heroic resistance and their loyalty to principles, the defence of national independence and sovereignty. Such values, which have not been negotiable for 50 years, led the United States government to admit to the severe damage the blockade has caused our population, and to recognise the failure of the openly hostile policy toward the revolution. They were unable to impose conditions on Cuba which were contrary to our aspirations, forged over almost 150 years of heroic struggle, not with force, economic coercion, or isolation.

The current process undertaken with the United States has also been possible thanks to unwavering international solidarity, in particular from the governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean who placed the United States in an unsustainable position of isolation. Strongly united, “like silver in the bedrock of the Andes,” as our national hero José Martí said in his essay “Our America,” Latin America and the Caribbean demanded a change in policy towards Cuba.

This regional demand was made unequivocally clear at the Summits of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 and in Cartagena, Colombia in 2012, when every country in the region unanimously and categorically demanded the lifting of the blockade, and our country’s participation in the 7th Hemispheric Meeting in Panama in 2015 when a Cuban delegation, led by Raúl, attended for the first time.

Since the announcements of December 2014, Cuba and the United States have taken steps toward improving the bilateral context.

On July 20, 2015, diplomatic relations were officially re-established along with the commitment to develop them on the basis of respect, co-operation, and the observance of the principles of international law.

Two meetings between the countries’ Presidents have taken place, as well as exchanged visits by ministers and other contacts between high ranking officials. Co-operation in various areas of mutual benefit are advancing and new opportunities for discussion have opened up, allowing for dialogue on issues of bilateral and multilateral interest, including those about which we have different conceptions.

This visit will be an opportunity for the US President to directly observe a nation immersed in its economic and social development and in improving its citizens’ well-being.

Our peoples enjoy rights and they can exhibit achievements which are only dreams for many of the world’s countries, achievements that have been attained despite the limitations derived from our condition as an underdeveloped, blockaded country, something that has earned us international recognition and respect.

In their joint statement released in Havana in February, internationally renowned figures Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill described this island as “a symbol of hope of the New World.”

French President François Hollande recently affirmed that “Cuba is respected and heard throughout Latin America,” and he praised the country’s capacity for resistance in the face of the most difficult tests.

South African leader Nelson Mandela always had words of profound gratitude for Cuba. On July 26, 1991 in Matanzas he said: “We in Africa are accustomed to being victims of other countries who want to seize our territory or subvert our sovereignty. In the history of Africa, there is no other example of a people (like the Cuban people) who have come to the defence of one of us.”

Obama finds himself in a country which actively contributes to regional and world peace and stability and which shares not what we have left over with other peoples, but the modest resources we possess, making solidarity an essential element of our identity, and for humanity’s well-being, one of the fundamental objectives of our international policy as Martí imparted to us.

The visit will also give him the opportunity to meet a noble, friendly, dignified people who possess a high degree of patriotism and national unity and who have always struggled for a better future, despite the adversities we have been obliged to face.

We are a people who will never renounce the defence of our principles and the vast work of the Revolution, unhesitatingly following the examples of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Julio Antonio Mella, Rubén Martínez Villena, Antonio Guiteras and Ernesto Che Guevara, among many others.

We are also a people united by historical, cultural and affective ties with United States citizens, one of whom is the emblematic figure of the writer Ernest Hemingway who received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel set in Cuba.

We are people who show our gratitude to people from the United States who like Thomas Jordan, Henry Reeve, Winchester Osgood and Frederick Funston fought with the liberation army in Cuba’s wars of independence against Spain; and those who in more recent times have opposed aggression against Cuba, such as Reverend Lucius Walker who defied the blockade to bring solidarity and help to our people and who supported the return of the boy Elián González and the Cuban Five to our homeland.

We learned from Martí to admire the homeland of Lincoln and to repudiate Cutting.

It is worthwhile to recall the words of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, on September 11, 2001, when he affirmed: “Today is a day of tragedy for the United States. You know very well that hatred for the US people has never been sowed here. Perhaps precisely because of its culture and lack of complexes, feeling fully free, with a homeland and no master, Cuba is the country where US citizens are treated with more respect.

We have never preached any kind of national hate or anything seeming to be fanatical, that is why we are so strong, because we base our conduct on principles, on ideas, and we treat every US citizens who visits us with great respect, and they perceive this.”

The President of the United States’ visit is an important step in the process of normalisation of bilateral relations. It must be remembered that Obama, just as Jimmy Carter previously, has decided to work towards the normalisation of ties with Cuba by making use of his executive powers, and he has consequently taken concrete action in this direction.

Nevertheless, in order to attain normalisation there is a long and difficult road ahead of us; it will require solving key issues which have accumulated over more than five decades and aggravated the confrontational nature of relations between the two countries.

Such problems are not resolved overnight, or with a Presidential visit.

To normalise relations with the United States, it is imperative that the economic, commercial, financial blockade which causes the Cuba people such hardship and is the principal obstacle to our country’s development be lifted.

We must acknowledge President Obama’s reiterated position that the blockade must be eliminated and his calling on Congress to lift it.

This is also a demand supported by the growing majority of the American public, and almost unanimously supported by the international community which on 24 occasions, in the United Nations General Assembly, has approved the Cuban resolution entitled “The necessity of putting an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America on Cuba”.

The US President has taken steps to modify the implementation of some aspects of the blockade; this is positive. High-ranking officials in his administration have said that others are being studied.

Nevertheless, it has not been possible to implement a good portion of these measures given their limited reach and because of the continuing existence of other regulations, and due to the intimidating effect of the blockade as a whole, which has been strictly enforced for 50 years.

Paradoxically, the government on the one hand adopts these measures and on the other it intensifies the sanctions against Cuba which affect the daily lives of our people.

Reality continues to show that the blockade is being maintained; it is also rigorously enforced and has notable extra-territorial scope, producing a deterring effect on companies and banks in the United States and in other countries.

An example of this are the multi-million dollar fines which continue to be levied on US companies and banking institutions, and those of other nationalities, for having relations with Cuba; the denial of services and the blocking of financial operations of international banks with our country; and the freezing of legitimate transfers of funds to and from Cuba, including those in currencies other than the US dollar.

The Cuban people hope that the US President’s visit will serve to consolidate his will to be actively involved in a full-blown debate in Congress to lift the blockade and, in the meantime, that he will continue to use his executive prerogatives to modify its application as much as possible, without the need for legislative action.

Other issues which are damaging Cuban sovereignty must also be resolved in order to achieve normal relations between the two countries. Territory occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, against the will of our government and people, must be returned to Cuba, to respect the unanimous wish of Cubans that has been expressed for over 100 years.

Interventionist programs, intended to provoke destabilizing situations and changes in our country’s political, economic, social order must be eliminated. The “regime change” policy must be definitively interred.

At the same time, the aim of fabricating domestic political opposition, supported by money from U.S. contributors, must be abandoned. An end must be put to the aggressive radio and television broadcasts attacking Cuba in open violation of international law, and the illegal use of telecommunications for political purposes, recognizing that the goal is not to influence Cuban society but to put technology at the service of development and knowledge.

The preferential migratory treatment our citizens receive, in accordance with the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, causes losses in human lives and encourages illegal emigration and trafficking in persons, as well as generating problems for third countries. This situation must be changed, just as the “parole” program for Cuban medical professionals must be canceled since it deprives the country of human resources vital to our people’s, health and affects the intended beneficiaries of Cuban cooperation with nations needing our support. Likewise, the policies which require Cuban athletes to break their ties with Cuba in order to play in U.S. leagues must change.

These policies of the past are incongruous with the new stage which the United States government has initiated with our country. All of them were established prior to the administration of President Obama but he can modify some of them with executive decisions and entirely eliminate others.

Cuba has taken on the building of a new relationship with the United States, fully exercising its sovereignty and committed to its ideals of social justice and solidarity. Nobody can claim that to do so we must renounce any one of our principles, concede one single inch in their defense or abandon what our Constitution declares: “Economic and diplomatic relations with any other state can never be negotiated under aggression, threats or coercion by a foreign power.”

Not even the slightest doubt can be harbored in regards to Cuba’s unconditional commitment to its revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideals and its foreign policy in favor of the world’s just causes, the defense of peoples’ self-determination and our traditional support for our sister countries.

As the latest Declaration of the Revolutionary Government has declared, our solidarity is, and will always be, immutable with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the government led by President Nicolás Maduro, and with the Bolivarian, Chavista people who are struggling to find their own path and who confront systematic destabilization attempts and unilateral sanctions established by the unfounded, unfair U.S. Executive Order of March 2015, condemned throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The announcement made this past March 3 to extend the so-called “National Emergency” and sanctions is unacceptable, direct intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela and its sovereignty. The Executive Order must be abolished: this will be Cuba’s firm, ongoing demand.

As Army General Raúl Castro stated: “We will not renounce our ideals of independence and social justice, nor will we surrender even a single one of our principles or concede one millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty. We will not allow ourselves to be pressured in regards to our internal affairs. We have won this sovereign right with great sacrifices and at the cost of great risks.”

Once again we reiterate that we have reached this point as a result of our convictions and because we have reason and justice on our side.

Cuba reaffirms its will to advance in its relations with the United States on the basis of respect for the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the region’s heads of state and government, which include absolute respect for independence, sovereignty and the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social and cultural system without interference of any kind; as well as equality and reciprocity.

Cuba reiterates its full disposition to maintain respectful dialogue with the government of the United States and to develop relations of civilized coexistence. Coexistence does not mean being obliged to renounce the ideas in which we believe and which have brought us thus far, or our socialism, our history or our culture.

The profound conceptual differences between Cuba and the United States in political models, social justice, international relations, world peace and stability, among others, will persist.

Cuba defends the indivisibility, interdependence and universality of civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. We are convinced that it is an obligation of governments to defend and guarantee the right to health, education, social security, equal pay for equal work, the rights of children, as well as the right to food and development. We reject the political manipulation and double standards relating to human rights, which must end. Cuba has signed 44 international instruments on this subject, while the United States has only committed to 18, and so it has much to share, to defend, and to demonstrate.

In regards to our ties with the United States, both countries should respect their differences and create a relationship which is beneficial for both our peoples.

Regardless of the progress which can be achieved in ties with the United States, the Cuban people will continue to move forward. With our own efforts and proven capacity and creativity, we will continue to work for the country’s development and for the wellbeing of Cubans. We will not desist in our demand for the blockade, which has caused and causes so much harm, to be lifted. We will persevere in the process of updating the socio-economic model we have chosen, and in building prosperous, sustainable socialism in order to consolidate the achievements of the Revolution.

A path that has been chosen in sovereignty and which will surely be reaffirmed by the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, with Fidel and Raúl victorious.

This is the Cuba which will respectfully welcome President Obama.- Granma

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