The Cuban Ambassador H.E. Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios explained how the country changed since the revolution 60 years ago and underlined the importance of mutual respect between countries.
As Ambassador of Cuba to Austria, you are representing your country here in Austria. For you personally, what is the most challenging part of the work as an Ambassador, what the most rewarding?
Having the possibility to represent the Cuban people before other nations and international organizations is a high honor and an immense privilege. Cuba is a country that has achieved great prestige at the international level due to its history, for the values and principles that we defend, for having resisted the oldest and most cruel economic blockade in the history for 60 years and without making concessions and for sharing what we have (that is not so much) with the nations in need. On 17 April, Trump’s administration itself announced the strict application of „Title III of the Helms-Burton Act“ that reinforces, in a dangerous manner, the extraterritorial component of the blockade imposed to our people. This was a hostile act that represents an attack on International Law and on the sovereignty of Cuba and third States.
The most rewarding part of our work is spreading the truth about Cuba around the world with humility and modesty, and receiving the majority support of peoples and nations.
It is always a challenge, but at the same time an opportunity to work in a country, in this case Austria, with a different language, idiosyncrasy and economic situation. As I mentioned, it is a great opportunity to show our culture and at the same time learn from the host country. This exchange enriches us all.
Cuba is celebrating the sixty-year anniversary of the revolution. How would you define or describe today’s Cuba, how – from your point of view – did it change since the revolution?
Cuba is a society that looks with pride at what has been done in these 60 years of Revolution, it develops its present with a critical and open spirit and is building a prosperous and sustainable future. The social achievements of the Cuban Revolution are very well known: elimination of illiteracy, a free educational and universal health system structured with the broadest access for people, having the best rates of human development and health of the Third World and comparable with those of many developed countries and having been able to resist and survive with dignity the collapse of the socialist system that constituted 80 percent of our commercial and economic relations. The notable differences between the city and the countryside were eliminated and, above all, we became an independent and sovereign state. If I would have to define Cuba in a few words, I would say that it is a country with dignity, popular support, social equality and a prosperous future. Cuba went through a profound revolution, with broad and solid popular support.
We are proud that six decades later, our little island and the dream of the Cuban Revolution have survived all attempts to subdue it. We are a nation in struggle, conscious of its duty and proud of its history.
In 2017, the National Council President Doris Bures welcomed the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla at the Austrian Parliament, where they confirmed to further strengthen the traditionally friendly relationship between the two countries. What happened in this regard since then?
In 2016, when I presented my credential letters as Ambassador of Cuba, both countries were celebrating 70 years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations. That year, the former president of Austria, Heinz Fischer paid an official visit to Cuba with a large delegation including ministerial and political leaders, scholars, representatives of the culture sector and businessmen. Cuba and Austria have always had a friendly relationship of respect and cooperation and they have been open to dialogue and mutual exchange. Our relations are mainly political, diplomatic, cultural, educational and scientific-academic and we have legal instruments to formalize cooperation ties in these sectors.
The diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on July 26 in 1946. Years later, that day became glorious for Cuba. In Cuba, the prevailing government at that time, which was meant to be a hope for change, ended as a quick frustration, timidly trying to expand its foreign relations, which were always controlled and directed by the powerful northern neighbour. In Europe, a small Alpine nation, devastated by the bloody world war and occupied by the victorious powers, tried to assert its independence. Circumstances made it possible.
Historians document the first contact in the eighteenth century by the Order of the Jesuits, and in particular, the presence in Havana of Juan Nepomuceno Von Goetz, priest of the diocese of Konstanz and a professor of moral philosophy at Vienna University arrived in 1803. In Havana theatres, the famous ballerina Fanny Elssler danced in 1841. The first world chess champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, successfully defended his crown in Havana Chess Club headquarters in 1889 and 1892 twice. Three Austrians fought in the Liberation Army during the wars for our independence against Spanish colonialism in the nineteenth century. Jamey Stewart, John Taks and Maximiliano Jastcha were also “mambises”. Likewise, in 1894, at the International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, the illustrious Cuban scientist Carlos J. Finlay unveiled its research on yellow fever that culminated with the discovery of the transmitting agent, the mosquito Aedes Aegyptis.
In Austria, there are also the remains of those brave compatriots fighting against Nazi-fascism who died in the concentration camps in Mauthausen.
The visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba to Austria in 2017, is a fact of remarkable transcendence. I would like to highlight now the possibilities of cooperation, which are being negotiated in the judicial sector, in aspects such as the legal assistance and the improvement of the infrastructure and operation of the registry system of Cuba. The sector of culture is an example of the good level of relations, especially in music. There is a good relationship between Mozarteum Foundation (Salzburg) and the Mozart Lyceum of Havana.
Other sectors with extensive possibilities of exchange are renewable energy, waste treatment and recycling. In this sense, the decision of the City Hall of Vienna to donate a package of trucks as contribution to improve the system of collection of waste and garbage in the Cuban capital, Havana, in the framework of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, has been remarkable. There are many possibilities and decisions of both parties to enhance the commercial and economic relations where opportunities and needs of mutual interest have been identified, which will require greater efforts and work on both sides in the coming years.
We are proud of the many friends we have in Austria. We take this opportunity to congratulate „ÖKG“, the Austria-Cuba Friendship Association that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. We thank the friends and colleagues of this organization for their solidarity support, in all our struggles.
Where do you see the advantages of Cuba’s socialist system compared to the one here in Austria? How are the relations with other socialist countries?
Cuba advances in updating its economic model, focused on preserving and extending the social achievements, raising economic efficiency and achieving the sustainable and prosperous socialism we aspire. I do not like to compare political and economic systems. Countries choose the system they consider the most convenient, according to the popular will, its socioeconomic conditions and its history. These choices must be respected. It is the same concept that must be applied to the case of Cuba. We are a socialist country because that is what our people decided, which was recently evidenced with the result of the constitutional referendum held in February this year and which ratifies the option of Socialism as our economic and social model. Ninety percent of the population approved it.
Being the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere, we maintain excellent relations with other similar socialist countries such as China, Viet-Nam and North Korea, where feelings of cooperation and mutual respect prevail, taking into account the particular conditions of each country. If someone wanted to figure out a new order of political and economic relations between nations, here is a model to follow up.
I would like to emphasize the importance of respect and tolerance for diversity between human beings, nations and systems; it is the only way to maintain peace, coexistence and to achieve development. We are optimistic, but today the world faces many threats to achieve this noble purpose, but Cuba has shown that a better world is possible.