'Cuba's sovereignty beyond negotiation with the US'

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, Dec 24 (IANS) Cuba's sovereignty is not up for negotiation with the US, Cuban ambassador to India Abelardo Rafael Cueto Sosa said here Wednesday.

In view of US president Barack Obama's recent move to warm up towards Cuba, the ambassador, in an interaction with reporters at the Indian Women's Press Corps, said "we are not enemies of the US" but minced no words to quickly add that "everything is negotiable but our independence and principles".

As a result of secret talks between the two countries that went on for over 18 months, Obama last week sought to defang the 54-year-old American trade embargo on a country kept at bay for its ideological proximity with Russia since the cold war era.

The order intends to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba that would lift restrictions on travel, commerce and financial activities.

However, it won't wash in the US Congress where the Republicans, who will be in majority both in Senate and the House of Representatives, next year, have pledged resisting lifting the embargo.

The order has a limited scope, said the ambassador, as the trade embargo remains "intact". "There has been no talk about lifting the blockade."

The ambassador made it plain that in case the embargo was ever removed "Cuban independence would not be negotiated. They (the US companies) can come and build hotels in our country. But the land remains ours."

In effect, the move to restore diplomatic ties would escalate people to people contact. Cuban Americans would be able to enter their country of origin, and tourists on either side would now be able to travel and there would be an ease in bilateral ties among diplomats.

The ambassador said it would be fallacious to think that the attempt to de-escalate the tension between the two countries would redefine freedom in his country.

"The people are free. There is zero illiteracy in Cuba. Education and health care are free. Social security is guaranteed to the citizens in our country.

"Our government is not perfect. But our conviction to improve our economy and the government is permanent in our hearts," the ambassador said.

Remaining skeptical of the US' new-found warmth for his country, Sosa said Cuba still remains on the US list of terror states along with Syria and Iraq.

"We would like to see that removed," he said.

On diplomatic ties with India, the ambassador said India is an old friend. "We don't have enemies here and we are not here to change the political system of India. We are only her because India is a very friendly country."