Cuba has been blockaded for the last 37 years. It means not even a single aspirin can be bought by Cuba from the United States. We have to buy everything through third countries. The Helms-Burton Bill violates principles of international law and the World Trade Organisation. It applies the law in an extra-territorial way to all countries of the world. It seeks to internationalise the blockade against Cuba. So far the blockade has only been the US vis-a-vis Cuba. Now they want all the countries to follow suit. If an international organisation wants to give credit to Cuba or Iran, they'll stop aid to that organisation. If a company deals with Cuba and at the same time has business in the US, the latter is immediately put an end to. Individuals working for the company and their families will be denied visas to the US. Even his country will be penalised. There's a clause relating to ex-socialist countries: the moment they collaborate with Cuba, the US will seek the return of all the help they gave to it. And suppose a country gives a loan of one million to Cuba, the US will cut an equal amount from a loan or aid to a project involving that country. This law will put the US in an open confrontation with the international community. The European Union has strongly protested, Canada has even changed internal regulation in order to be immune to this law. All the Latin American countries which have a lot of investment in Cuba are also protesting strongly.
We are moving towards a neo-colonial era when the US will tell us what to do and what not to do, with whom you can negotiate or invest or have dealings with or not. The European Community and Australia have substantial investments in the Cuban mining industry. They'll be affected by this regulation. They're insulted by the US pretence that what it says is law for everyone. The consequences for Cuba will be tough because many people are coming to invest in Cuba. We promulgated a new investment law in October 1995—very flexible, transparent and appropriate. We already have more than 300 joint ventures.
Do you think the international community will comply?
I don't know if the US really believes all the countries will comply. I suppose they are clear that won't happen. It will stop only some of them. When you talk of economic interests, people think twice and don't like to be told what to do or not to do...it's insulting. After the socialist world collapsed, it's clear the US is testing to what point the international community is ready to accept the formula of the American ultra right. My foreign affairs minister told the UN: "Remember, what's being done to Cuba today will be done to all of you tomorrow." It's a test for all of us. This is a criminal law which will affect two-and-a-half million children in my country.
Fundamentally, they want Cuba to either renounce its political project or pay for it. The US is not happy with just the opening of the Cuban economy, they want Fidel Castro out of the way. They want the whole Cuban population to reject our political project, and our way of being and our society. They are, of course, very angry and upset—though the socialist wall collapsed five years ago, the Cubans have endured these difficult five years and are getting out of it. We're wise and flexible enough to make substantial changes in our economy without renouncing our political project. But this isn't enough for them, they want Cuba on its knees, they want a Cuba without Fidel Castro, without any of the historical leaders of the revolution, they want civil war, Cuban against Cuban, killing each other. Yet, we're open to a realistic and self-respecting discussion with the US, where we can sit down and even agree to disagree and normalise relations. They know we can do it, but they aren't willing. The US doesn't have a mature administration which dares to say: OK, Cuba, I disagree with you, but let's normalise relations.
What will be the immediate impact on Cuba?
All foreign investors will have to decide whether they'll continue investing in Cuba and how to protect that. There will be a two to three month delay in new projects till it can be verified how serious the US is about implementing this law. Bill Clinton didn't want to sign this bill. He was pushed by the ultra right. It's election year, he knows it's a big problem for the US, he knows he will open up millions of legal processes that will put everyone in a big problem.
They interfere in every country. They tell you whether to have a coalition government, whether you should have your own weapon or not. I think you, as an Indian, know very well what I'm saying.
How has India responded?
Well, India has historically opposed the blockade against Cuba in all voting in the last three years in the UN. I am sure India won't accept the Helms-Burton law because that goes against India's beliefs on international politics. India knows very well what the US policy is...
But India has not reacted at all this time...
India has supported Cuba in the UN in order to get a special session of the General Assembly. It was very active within the NAM and as the head of the regional grouping in making the General Assembly's special session hear the Cuban foreign minister. I value India's decision highly. It's also a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and I believe it will pay special attention to the resolution the US presented against Cuba in the ICAO which prejudged the investigation—Cuba is already condemned. The Security Council said the ICAO has to open an investigation, Cuba has also asked for a prompt investigation.
Aren't you somewhat disappointed that India hasn't come up with a statement on this law?
It's still premature. The law has just been approved. We don't know if they're going to make a statement or not. It's only fair that every country adopts a position it wants to.
After the Cold War, our old closeness isn't there...
Every country has its own priorities, its own reality. Yes, we did have a substantial economic and trade cooperation. But there have been important changes in our economies in the last five years...we haven't been able to continue our relations in an ascending way. I won't blame India or Cuba, I'll only say economic realities are there. India has proved to be a friend of Cuba in fundamental matters of international importance. Times change, but that doesn't mean there's a lack of political will to maintain a level of collaboration despite difficulties.
What are the difficulties?
The difficulties are fundamentally economic. Cuba hasn't been able to continue imports from India. We haven't been able to implement new projects because of a liquidity problem. Politically, India is still a very good friend.
And Cuba's the only country whose head of state said last December in the UN that India should be in the Security Council. We've maintained scientific and technical collaboration, a cultural agreement. I don't like the proposition that our relations aren't the same as before. I'll only say they are different. Its character has had to change.
Why has Cuba failed to attract Indian investors?
This attitude of Indian industrialists is not only vis-a-vis Cuba but vis-a-vis Latin America. Latin America is very far from India, it's a new market. Indian industrialists have to get to know the possibilities. We've told them: don't think only of selling and buying, think of joint ventures, of being able to produce there—there's potential for Indian goods in Latin America.
What about the rice supply controversy of 1992?
The US threatened India that it won't buy Indian wheat if it sells rice to Cuba on credit. In your Parliament, the Opposition and even some Congress MPs criticised it. Then, the decision was not to sell rice to Cuba. That was a very specific case.
Is India supplying anything like that to Cuba now?
No. We are in the market today to buy rice.
Were you then?
No. We had asked for credit then. Now it's going to be a commercial operation.
So it will be fundamentally different from the last deal.
Yes. It will be a purely commercial deal. You have to respect the decision each government takes. We came, we asked, it was not possible at that time, but in any case we got rice from India.
What's the quantum of Indo-Cuban trade?
It's very low. The trade has been depressed in the last five years. There's a lot of interchange now in the biotechnology industry—Cuba is very advanced in that. We're selling new medicaments and vaccines to India. We can also work for mutual benefit in the sugar industry. We're buying things like jute bags, rice and many other things but I don't want to go into the details because our good friends, the Americans, will be very keen to know how much we're involved in that. So let's just say we're reactivating trade. We're going to have an economic meeting this year and we hope we'll be able to sign new agreements in the fields of science and technology and also new, mutually beneficial trade and economic projects.
How much was it five years ago?
It has come down substantially in the last five years. In the '80s and till the early '90s, it was over $80 million, perhaps even $100 million annually. It's really very small now. That's why we're working so hard to reactivate it.
How would you like to end the interview?
I want to express my sincere hope that India as an independent country will react accordingly to the pressures of the Helms-Burton law. I have the conviction that, knowing the Indian Government, it will never go by pressures of this sort. I say it because I know India has withstood a lot of pressure owing to its relations with Cuba and I hope and believe India will continue to be consistent vis-a-vis relations with Cuba.