Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s first post-Castro era president, arrived in New York this week to address the U.N. General Assembly. The visit to the United States marked the new Cuba leader’s debut on the global stage and called international attention to past, and present, conflict in U.S.-Cuba relations, particularly the Cuban Embargo.
Leading a large delegation that included his wife, Díaz-Canel told reporters that he would denounce the “aberrant blockade” that, for more than five decades, has become a symbol of U.S. hostility toward Cuba, and the main impediment to fully normalized bilateral ties. For the last 27 years, Cuba has introduced a resolution at the General Assembly to condemn the ongoing Cuban Embargo, which Díaz-Canel characterized as “the longest lasting blockade in history.”
As a lead-up to his presentation at the General Assembly today, Díaz-Canel made the rounds in New York City. On Monday, he spoke at a Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, held meetings with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as the presidents of Spain, Ecuador and Iran. At the Manhattan headquarters of Google, Díaz-Canel also met with top executives from that company, and representatives of Twitter, Microsoft, Airbnb, Connectify, Virgin Group, and Bloomberg news among other tech and media companies.
One of his top policy priorities, he told the tech officials, was “computerizing society” in Cuba. According to the Miami Herald, he blamed the Cuban Embargo as “the principal obstacle for the maximum development of this area.”
Díaz-Canel’s official itinerary did not involve any bilateral meetings with Trump administration officials. But the Cuban leader did hold a meeting with a delegation of U.S. Senators and Congressional representatives, among them Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida). In a statement about the meeting, Castor noted that “For the first time in nearly six decades, the world is seeing Cuba without a Castro at the helm. For the United States, this is a new opportunity for improved relations with our neighbor just 90 miles off the Florida coast—one we cannot afford to let slip by.”
Like his predecessors, Fidel and Raúl Castro, Díaz-Canel used his speech before the General Assembly to denounce U.S. policy toward Cuba. "In spite of the blockade, the hostility and the actions carried out by the United States to impose a regime change in Cuba, the Cuban revolution is right here, alive and kicking, true to its principles," he said. "The generational change in our government should not raise the hopes of the enemies of the revolution. We are the continuity, not a rupture."
As part of the Obama administration’s policy of rapprochement, two years ago then-U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power voted to abstain, rather than oppose, the annual resolution offered by Cuba to denounce the trade embargo. “Instead of isolating Cuba,” she told the General Assembly, “our policy isolated the United States. Including right here at the United Nations.”
Last year, though, Trump-appointed ambassador Nikki Haley declared that “for the 25th time in 26 years, the United States will vote against this resolution” and denounced the Assembly for the “wasted time” of considering it. Of the 193 nations at the U.N., only Israel joined the U.S. in voting against the resolution. The remaining 191 nations voted to condemn continuing U.S. economic sanctions.