Daniel Garcia Marco y Beatriz Juez (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban President Raul Castro will address the UN General Assembly for the first time on Monday, with a speech less hostile than those of his older brother, a testament to the rapprochement with the United States.
“For us, both are lacking in political savvy,” Fidel Castro declared at the UN on September 26, 1960, referring to presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
It was his first address at a UN plenary session and both his anti-US rhetoric and the 269-minute duration of the speech (a record in the General Assembly’s 70-year history) are still vividly remembered.
Raul Castro, who has been Cuba’s president since 2008, is not likely to deliver a speech as long or critical tomorrow. The younger of the Castros is more pragmatic and less rhetorical, and, after more than 50 years of ideological rivalry, the United States and Cuba have re-established relations, making these times rather different.
“He will likely make room in his speech for anti-imperialist statements and a defense of the Cuban revolution, as well as the reforms that he has implemented. He will probably underscore the role President Obama and Pope Francis played in the rapprochement between Washington and Havana. And, without a doubt, he will condemn the US commercial blockade,” Michael Shifter, chair of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue Organization, told DPA.
Raul Castro’s speech at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development on Saturday may have been a sample of tomorrow’s address.
On the one hand, Castro condemned the embargo that the United States has been imposing on the island for over fifty years and that only Congress has the authority to lift.
“The economic, commercial and financial blockade maintained on Cuba for more than half a century brings challenges and privation to the Cuban people, and it is the main obstacle in the way of our country’s economic development,” said Raul Castro, affirming that the embargo is condemned by 188 UN member states.
On the other hand, he underscored the rapprochement with the long-standing ideological enemy and quoted Barack Obama, who supports the lifting of a blockade that has been softened through executive measures.
“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, the reopening of embassies and the policy changes that President Barack Obama has announced vis-à-vis our country constitute an important step,” he declared.
Tomorrow, September 28, Castro will speak a few hours after Obama takes the floor of the UN General Assembly. Then, according to the White House, the two leaders will meet face-to-face on Tuesday, the first time since the historical meeting in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Last week, the two leaders spoke over the phone prior to Pope Francis’ visit to the two countries.
“President Raul Castro is going to reaffirm Cuba’s long-standing foreign policy commitments during his speech and no one should expect him to embrace a world order led by the United States or the power of the market economy system,” Cuban political analyst and assistant professor at the University of New York Arturo Lopez-Levy told DPA in connection with the speech.
On Saturday, the socialist leader called on nations to “change the prevailing international economic order.”
“But we’re going to see less confrontation in terms of how he portrays the United States’ role in the world,” Lopez-Levy added.
Since Fidel Castro’s 2000 speech, no Cuban president had spoken before the UN General Assembly. “It’s a positive step, for it marks the return to a forum in which only countries like North Korea or Syria do not participate,” Shifter said with respect to the diplomatic gesture.
The times are changing. Ideologies survive, but the enemy is less so. “Imperialism is going to be framed as somewhat less imperialistic,” Lopez-Levy pointed out.
People also change. Fidel was different than Raul Castro, who maintains a “pragmatic kind of leadership,” the political analyst affirmed.
Though it isn’t likely to last four hours, the speech won’t be a brief remark like Saturday’s – that was just a glimpse at what’s to come. “Given the importance of the event and Cuba’s habit, I would not expect a short speech,” Shifter stated.