Cuba has gained the membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). As a key ally of Sri Lanka, the country is now planning to play a major role at the March session of the UNHRC. Cuban Ambassador Indira Lopez Arguelles assures her country’s co-operation to Sri Lanka in this regard. She also pledged to co-operate with Sri Lanka in its effort to strengthen its ties with the entire Latin American region. She also outlines how the US economic blockade on her country contracted its economic growth. Here are some excerpts of the interview with the Cuban Ambassador.
Q: What are the new dimensions of Sri Lanka–Cuba relations under the prevailing global conditions?
We have very good political relations at the moment. There is better co-ordination in the multilateral arena on numerous topics. Such sound political relations open up doors for co-operation in many other areas. But, Cuba is having problems with regard to economic matters because of the economic blockade imposed by the United States. Since 1992, we have experienced economic contraction due to this blockade. We do not have access to credit lines. This is a grave problem for us in terms of foreign trade. We have found it difficult to get direct access to various foreign markets over this situation triggered by the economic blockade. This is not merely a trade blockade between the United States and Cuba. It has different dimensions. For example, we face difficulties in transacting with foreign banks. They do not want to transfer money to Cuba in trade, fearing that they would be blacklisted by the United States.
Q: Does it mean that there is no scope for further expansion of economic co-operation between Cuba and Sri Lanka under such circumstances?
Of course, there are opportunities. We can share our expertise in the development of human resources. We have expertise in the fields of sports. We have experts in the field of medicine. At the moment, 41 Sri Lankan students study medicine in Cuba.
Q: But, is there any potential to increase the export volume?
It remains a problematic area at the moment. Sri Lanka faces problems in shipment of its goods to Cuba due to the economic blockade by the United States. If a ship berths at a Cuban port, it won’t be allowed access to any port in the United States for 180 days. Now, we can trade goods only through third parties. Then, products get more and more expensive. That is the problem we have. We purchase some apparel products and tea in small quantities from your country. But, for expansion, the US blockade has been a problem.
Q: In its foreign policy, Sri Lanka has focused more of its attention on Africa and Latin America. Cuba is an active player in the Latin American region. How can Cuba help Sri Lanka in its effort to access Latin America?
You have an embassy in Cuba. We can introduce Sri Lanka to various mechanisms in Latin America. We are a member of the Association of Caribbean States. We hold the chairmanship of the new association named Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. These are regional bodies which we are involved in. We can actually help Sri Lanka a lot in this regard. Sri Lanka can take initiatives through its embassy in Cuba. We are interested in helping Sri Lanka in its effort to forge ties with Latin America. We have the political will and intent to help Sri Lanka.
Q: How important would it be for Sri Lanka to team up with Latin America?
I do not think it is a bad idea. Latin America is a huge market. You have to develop a relationship with the region on the areas where you can co-operate. It is not complimentary. It is a dynamic region with many sectors growing, and there are so many opportunities for Sri Lanka to develop trade activities.
Q: In the emerging world order, how do you analyse the role of Cuba?
Cuba stands for equality. There is no politicisation of international affairs. We are for co-operation. For the first time, Cuba blocked a global update of trading rules at the World Trade Organisation Conference in Bali recently. These rules did not include fairness. We are for multi-polarity for third world countries to get better opportunities.
Q: Cuba is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During its session scheduled for March, how are you going to act, especially regarding Sri Lanka’s case which is slated to be taken up?
It is a matter of principle for us. We are against any country-specific resolution. That is our stand. We are against the politicisation of the UNHRC. When a country is singled out in this manner, it is not co-operative. Then, it is an infringement of the country’s sovereignty. It is unnecessary interference with internal affairs of a country. It is the creation of unnecessary pressure on a country. It is exactly opposite to the spirit of the international law. That is why we are against country- specific resolutions. There should only be co-operation by the UNHRC with the member states. The Universal Periodic Review is the acceptable mechanism for peer evaluation of each country’s situation. This mechanism offers the country concerned the opportunity to present its case, for feedback from others for improvements. Every country has its own culture and traditions. That has to be respected.
"There are problems all over the world such as hunger, and lack of education opportunities. In that sense, Sri Lanka has better social development indicators. When a country is singled out, there is injustice"
Q: Do you mean country-specific resolutions can only exacerbate problems?
Yes exactly. The spirit of the international law is co-operation. It is not building pressure on countries.
Q: Already, the UNHRC has adopted two resolutions on Sri Lanka. What are your views on them?
These resolutions have not been fair by Sri Lanka. They have not recognised Sri Lanka’s achievements. Why is Sri Lanka singled out? Sri Lanka has not invaded another country and killed its people. There are no resolutions on countries responsible for invasions of other countries and killing their people. Why are there double-standards? There is one policy towards some countries and another towards other countries. We are against this duplicity. Problems are all over the world. There is hunger, lack of education opportunities. But, Sri Lanka has better social development indicators. When a country is singled out, there is injustice.
Q: In March, will Cuba team up with Sri Lanka?
Cuba will remain with Sri Lanka. Cuba will help in the best possible manner. We will co-operate with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka needs co-operation and relationship. We need to engage with Sri Lanka in a spirit of co-operation.
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