HAVANA TIMES — Raul Castro, who appears on the list of heads of State and government invited to attend the UN General Assembly during the organization’s 70th anniversary, will be visiting the United States for the first time in 56 years.
Official Cuban sources confirmed the visit on Wednesday. The list of participants, the assembly’s agenda and the favorable state of relations between Washington and Havana all appear to indicate that the Cuban leader will be traveling to New York to speak before a UN plenary session. His address is scheduled for the afternoon session of September 28, a few hours after a speech by President Barack Obama, who is to deliver his address during the morning session.
The 84-year-old Raul Castro’s address before the United Nations will be his first visit to the country since 1959, when he stayed briefly in Houston coinciding with Fidel Castro’s trip to the United States following his ascent to power. It is also the first time he will address the UN as a head of State since his brother’s poor health forced him to retire in 2006.
A Never-ending Speech
Fidel Castro appeared and spoke before the United Nations in 1960, 1979, 1995 and 2000. His 1960 speech – which spanned 4 hours and 29 minutes – is still a UN record in terms of duration.
It is likely that Raul Castro will deliver a brief and concise speech, in the style of his addresses in Cuba.
Following the re-establishment of relations between Washington and Havana, Raul Castro has is free to move about US territory, so it would not be rash to say the leader has included other collateral activities on his travel agenda. At one point during the Summit of the Americas held in Panama last April, Raul Castro even jokingly mentioned he could visit Miami, but that seems far less likely (and more complicated) than a courtesy visit to the White House or a tour of Harlem.
Obama is planning a welcome dinner for participating heads of State and Raul Castro should be among the guests.
Between the Pope and Putin
At any rate, there has probably never been a better time for Raul Castro to visit the United States.
The General Assembly debates will open on September 25 following an address by Pope Francis, who is to leave Cuba and arrive at the United States two days before. Plenary sessions will be held until October 3.
The Pope agrees with the criticisms levelled at the US embargo, an issue that will also likely be tackled during his speech before Congress. In this connection, last Friday, Cuba announced through Josefina Vidal, head of the United States Office in Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that, in keeping with tradition, it will again present a resolution condemning the embargo before the General Assembly. The United States (as well as Israel and a number of Pacific islands) has regularly voted against this resolution, but this occasion will pose a dilemma, following President Obama’s appeals to Congress for the lifting of the embargo.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhandi (three allies of Havana) are among the more than 160 world leaders expected to attend the UN General Assembly.