Raúl Castro to address U.N. General Assembly for first time
Raúl Castro to address U.N. General Assembly for first time
Castro scheduled to speak Monday afternoon
Condemnation of the embargo a Cuban priority
A meeting between President Obama and Castro likely
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
The table is set for the United States and Cuba to make headlines as
Cuban leader Raúl Castro makes his first United Nations appearance ever
and addresses the 70th General Assembly on Monday — a few hours after
President Barack Obama speaks.
It will be the first U.N. General Assembly session since the United
States and Cuba renewed diplomatic relations on July 20 after a break of
more than 54 years, and Cuba has made it clear that a condemnation of
the U.S. embargo, or blockade as it prefers to call it, is its priority.
Castro arrived in New York around noon Thursday because he wanted to be
there for Pope Francis’ Friday morning address at the U.N. and to attend
the weekend summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. During his time
in New York, Castro also plans to meet with heads of state and other
dignitaries, members of Congress and the Cuban diaspora and to attend
the Global Leaders Meeting on Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.
On Friday, Castro listened to Francis’ speech along with Foreign
Minister Bruno Rodríguez and Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s minister of
international trade and foreign investment.
Castro’s first appearance at the U.N. is “very significant,” said Ben
Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic
communications and one of the negotiators in secret talks that led to
the diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and Cuba. “It
comes on the heels of the United States and Cuba establishing diplomatic
relations earlier this summer, and on the heels of Pope Francis
traveling to both Cuba and the United States.”
While Rhodes said the United States and Cuba would continue to have
their differences, particularly on human rights, he said the presence of
both the president and Castro at the United Nations General Assembly “is
a symbol we’re in a new era.”
As is traditional, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will lead off the
parade of nations giving addresses Monday during a high-level week at
the General Assembly. She’ll be followed by Obama. Castro, bracketed by
Chile and South Africa, will be the 20th to speak.
Rhodes said a meeting between the president and Castro was likely, but
he said no formal encounter has been set and it was unclear if there
would be time for an extended bilateral meeting. The two leaders spoke
by telephone just before the pope’s Sept. 19-22 trip to Cuba, and they
met face-to-face for the first time in April during the Summit of the
Americas in Panama.
Just as it has for decades, a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo is
expected to come before the United Nations, putting the United States in
a potentially awkward position since its rapprochement with Cuba. The
resolution has already been circulated among U.N. members and is
expected to come up for a vote on Oct. 27.
Rodríguez says this year the resolution will include two new paragraphs
that acknowledge the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between Cuba and
the United States and Obama’s efforts to lift the embargo but at the
same time reflect continued worries about the economic sanctions that
remain in place.
Since the Dec. 17 announcement that the two countries would work toward
normalization of relations, Obama has unveiled several new exceptions to
the embargo that make trade and travel with the island easier.
But at a press conference earlier this month, Rodríguez said: “The
reality is that until now the blockade doesn’t permit Cuba to export or
import products freely to and from the United States, doesn’t permit the
U.S. dollar to be used in international financial transactions with
third countries, and doesn’t allow access to private credit in the
United States nor in international financial institutions.”
Obama has said he wants to work with Congress to lift the embargo, but
various laws and regulations, including the Helms-Burton Act, are the
law of the land and prevent most trade and commerce with Cuba.
Earlier this week John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, declined to
say what action the United States might take on the resolution, saying
he didn’t want to get ahead of things and comment on a resolution before
it was introduced. “The president and Secretary [John] Kerry have been
very open and honest about the fact that they want to see the embargo
lifted,” Kirby said.
Last year, for the 23rd year in a row, the General Assembly voted in
favor of the resolution. Only the United States and Israel voted against
it and the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau
abstained. This week, Castro plans ceremonies in New York for Cuba’s
reestablishment of relations with both Palau and the Marshall Islands.
“One of the many things that was wrong with our Cuba policy is that it
was succeeding only in isolating ourselves,” said Rhodes. “It was a
major irritant in the hemisphere, but even more around the world.”
The Associated Press has reported that the United States might itself
abstain this year instead of voting against the resolution.
Earlier this month, Cuba released a 37-page document setting forth the
economic damages it says have been caused by the embargo, which was
phased in during the early 1960s. Rodríguez said that not only has the
embargo been the main obstacle in the country’s economic development but
it also has caused an estimated $833.76 million in accumulated damages
to the Cuban economy.
While it will be Castro’s first ever U.N. address, he won’t be the first
member of his family to speak before the international body. His brother
Fidel Castro was the last Cuban leader to attend the annual General
Assembly back in 2000. In recent years, Rodríguez has led Cuba’s U.N.
Fidel Castro holds the record for giving the longest timed U.N. speech —
a marathon 269-minute attack on U.S. imperialism on Sept. 26, 1960.
During that visit, Castro also made news by staying at the Theresa Hotel
in Harlem and meeting with Malcolm X and other black leaders.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, it’s expected to be a fairly quiet General
Assembly session except for a simmering Venezuelan-Guyanese border dispute.
The 15-member Caribbean community will not be taking any new initiatives
during the General Assembly but will continue its position of advocating
for small-island developing states. Issues include the need for
concessional development financing for so-called middle income
countries. Leaders have said that such financing is critical if they are
to meet the sustainable development goals of the post-2015 agenda.
“We will need the assistance of the international community,” Bahamian
Prime Minister Perry Christie said Friday at the opening of the
Sustainable Development Summit.
Christie said that gross domestic product per capita “should not be the
sole determinant for the question of the economic support that is to be
given [to] our region, but that our vulnerability to economic and other
exogenous shocks must also be taken into account.
“A single large investor can, when it collapses, throw an entire country
out of whack, and similarly, one hurricane can wipe out the gross
domestic product of an entire country threefold,” he added.
Christie said as nations implement the new agenda, leaders must continue
to acknowledge that small-island developing states remain a special case
for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular
vulnerabilities, including the adverse effects of climate change.
The negative impact of climate change, they said, can already be seen in
last month’s loss of lives and significant damages in Dominica when
Tropical Storm Erika tore through.
“Clearly the weather patterns, the climatic conditions are changing,
changing for the worse and impacting small islands like ours in a
serious manner,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said after
the deadly storm.
Among the anticipated addresses by Caribbean leaders is that of newly
elected Guyana President David Granger. Guyanese Foreign Minister Carl
Greenidge said Granger plans to appeal for help in the ongoing border
dispute with neighboring Venezuela. It is claiming the Essequibo region,
which is about 40 percent of Guyanese territory.
“We feel [Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] is prepared to do almost
anything,” Greenidge told the Miami Herald.
Maduro and Granger are expected to meet while in New York, according to
Guyanese officials say they have reliable reports that Venezuela is
mobilizing military personnel and equipment along the country’s western
border. Guyanese citizens were warned to remain vigilant and to only use
official points of entry if they must travel to Venezuela. “They have
illegally positioned ships in the waterways,” Greenidge said. “We are
monitoring.” In response, Guyana on Friday launched its own military
Miami Herald Caribbean Correspondent Jacqueline Charles contributed to
this story: @Jacquiecharles
Mimi Whitefield: @HeraldMimi
Source: Raúl Castro to address U.N. General Assembly for first time |
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