CubaNews / May 2008
By Larry Luxner
Jorge Alberto Bolaños Suárez isn’t giving interviews to the press just yet, but that hasn't stopped Havana’s top diplomat in the U.S. from expressing outrage at the Bush administration’s current hardline Cuba policy.
Bolaños, who began his new job in January, blasted the White House during an Apr. 23 reception at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. It was the first event at the Cuban mission since Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency of Cuba from his brother Fidel, though Bolaños said not a word about the change in leadership.
“For almost half a century, the U.S. government has continued a policy of embargo against Cuba,” he declared. “It has failed in its principal objective of making our revolution collapse, but has succeeded in making life harder for my people — and hurting the interests of its own people who have financed a cruel policy that has cost us billions of dollars.”
Bolaños said the embargo “has been rejected by the rest of the world, and according to international law it is illegal and genocidal.”
Some 100 people showed up for the party, many of them American sympathizers of the revolution, enjoying their Cohiba cigars, Havana Club mojitos and the music of legendary Cuban-born jazz pianist Chuchito Valdes, who now lives in Mexico.
Some in attendance, however, were there for business — men like Richard Waltzer and Craig Jacobs of Splash Tropical Drinks, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company that exports frozen daiquiri mix and other beverages to Cuba via a loophole in the embargo known as TSRA.
“We’re very happy that the Cuban government has sent their most decorated diplomat to Washington to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, and we fully support that,” Waltzer told CubaNews. “That’s why we’re here.”
Bolaños acknowledged the presence of the Florida executives, noting that it’s “very important” to have representatives from the Sunshine State pushing for better bilateral ties with Cuba, which sits only 90 miles south of Key West, Fla.
“It is the United States, not Cuba, that is isolated,” he said. “Cuba has diplomatic relations with 181 countries. Cuba is president of the Non-Aligned Movement. Cuba is a member of the UN Human Rights Commission. More than 20,000 Cuban physicians work in Latin America, including thousands of teachers, instructors and sports specialists. Some 100 U.S. citizens study at Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine and Science, along with 40,000 students from other countries.
He continued: “Thousands of Cuban teachers and physicians offer humanitarian assistance in Africa, fighting diseases. The African nations praise Cuba as a brother.”
Bolaños, 71, replaced Dagoberto Rodríguez as head of the Cuban Interests Section, which occupies a mansion fronting Sixteenth Street and was established in 1977 during the Carter administration. That year, a U.S. Interests Section was also set up along Havana’s oceanfront Malecón; both missions fall under the jurisdiction of Switzerland.
Bolaños, a native of Santiago de Cuba, began his diplomatic career in 1963 and served as Cuba’s envoy to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Great Britain and Brazil, and by 2000 was considered one of Cuba’s most distinguished diplomats. He helped mend a near-break in relations between Cuba and Mexico and is widely respected.
Bolaños, at the direction of the Foreign Ministry in Havana, has declined all requests for interviews until after the November presidential elections, though he was quoted in January by Associated Press as saying that Raúl Castro’s offers for dialogue with Washington weren’t intended for George W. Bush but for the next occupant of the White House.
“When Raúl spoke about it, he was not referring to the present administration,” the diplomat told AP at the time.
“He was speaking clearly about after the U.S. elections. That is when Cuba would be ready to dialogue on the basis of respect, without the arrogance that has always colored the U.S. position,” said Bolaños. “I’m not concerned with what the current State Department says because we are waiting for what the next one has to say about Cuba.”
At the reception, Bolaños — quoting both Woodrow Wilson and Nelson Mandela — praised Cuba’s struggle against colonialism, noting that “we had José Martí — the greatest political thinker of the modern era, and a disciple of Simón Bolívar. We had men like Fidel and Raúl, men like Camilo and Che. Our people never stopped fighting for independence, which was achieved not on May 20, but on Jan. 1 . And because we have a Jan. 1, we have three generations of Cubans who have courageously defended our traditions.”
Before ending his speech, Bolaños also paid tribute to the five men convicted by the U.S. government of spying for the Castro regime — “five Cuban patriots who have been unjustly incarcerated by the United States for defending Cuba against acts of terrorism, while Luís Posada Carriles, the terrorist, walks freely in the streets of Miami without paying taxes.”