Cuba's new president Miguel Diaz-Canel makes first trip to old Cold War foe US

Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel will address the UNGA Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on Sept 24 and the General Assembly on Sept 26.
Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel will address the UNGA Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on Sept 24 and the General Assembly on Sept 26.PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA (REUTERS, AFP) - Cuba's new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, arrived in New York on Sunday (Sept 23) for his first trip to the United States, where he will denounce the decades-old US trade embargo on his country at the UN General Assembly, state-run media reported.

Tensions have heightened between the Cold War foes after US President Donald Trump tightened the embargo last year following the resumption of diplomatic relations under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Washington also alleged a series of health attacks had taken place on US diplomats in Havana.

The Cuban government has said no attacks occurred and that the Trump administration was using whatever did occur - if indeed anything did - as a pretext to escalate its hostile stance on the Communist-run island.

Diaz-Canel, who took over the presidency from his mentor, Raul Castro, in April, will address the UNGA Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on Monday and the General Assembly on Wednesday, according to state-run outlet Cubadebate.

At that session, Cuba will present for the 27th year running a resolution calling for the end of the US trade embargo on the island nation.

"We bring the voice of Cuba that above all comes to denounce the abnormal policy of the blockade, a policy that has already failed, that will continue to fail, and that is the longest blockade in the history of humanity," Diaz-Canel said on arrival, according to the Cuban Foreign Ministry.


Of Cuban-US relations, he added Havana seeks “a civiliwed relationship despite ideological differences.” 

However, he said the government of US President Donald Trump is “an administration with which it is difficult to form an equal relationship.” 

The General Assembly marks Diaz-Canel’s debut on the world stage, after he took office on April 19, succeeding brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.  His address is scheduled for Sept 26 – 58 years to the day since Fidel Castro’s first speech there.  

In a month, the Assembly will vote on a resolution calling for an end to the embargo. The issue has been voted upon annually for over two decades, and has majority support.  

Despite its well-known position in favour of the embargo, the US abstained in 2016 after former president Barack Obama and Raul Castro restored diplomatic relations after over 50 years of tension.  

But after Trump entered office, Washington reported several US diplomats and their relatives in Havana had suffered mysterious symptoms as a result of alleged “acoustic attacks” in late 2016 – an accusation Cuba denies.  

As a result, the US recalled more than half of its staff from its Havana embassy and expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington.

Diaz-Canel's statements on the United States, as on other political matters, have so far largely echoed those of Raul Castro, who remains head of the Communist Party until 2021.

The non-binding UN resolution urges the United States to repeal the embargo on Cuba as soon as possible. Only the US Congress can lift the full embargo, put in place more than 50 years ago.

Through the week, Diaz-Canel will meet with other foreign leaders, as well as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, US supporters of engagement with Cuba and members of the Cuban-American community, Cubadebate said. He will also speak on Wednesday night at New York's historic Riverside Church.

Diaz-Canel made his first trip abroad as president to Cuba's main ally, Venezuela, in May.