In his most important speech so far this year, the possible successor to Raúl Castro described accusations made by the U.S. government of sonic attacks targeting nearly two dozen of its diplomats stationed in Cuba as “tall tales.”
“Some spokespeople and the media lend themselves to propagating unbelievable tall tales, without any evidence, with the perverse purpose of discrediting the impeccable performance of our country, universally considered a safe destination for foreign visitors, including Americans,” First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel said at the event held Sunday in Santa Clara for the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
“Overall, these events are a clear example of what Che warned us: ‘... that you can’t trust imperialism, not even a little bit, not at all!’ ” he added.
The thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba has suffered a severe blow following the State Department’s denunciation of health attacks against 22 of its diplomats in Havana. The crisis has escalated and now both embassies have reduced staff. The U.S. also issued a travel warning to Americans advising them not to visit the island. New Treasury Department regulations are also expected to make it more difficult for U.S. companies to do business with Cuban companies controlled by the military.
Sunday’s speech also gave Diaz-Canel the opportunity to respond to President Donald Trump’s statements during the Hispanic Heritage Month event at the White House on Friday.
“As I announced before a wonderful crowd in Little Havana earlier this year, we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until it delivers full political freedom for the Cuban people,” Trump said. “The same failed communist ideology that has brought oppression to Cuba has brought nothing but suffering and misery everywhere and everyplace it has been anywhere in the world.
“Communism is the past; freedom is the future,” he said.
Diaz-Canel’s response: “True to his legacy [in reference to Guevara] and Fidel’s, we reaffirm that Cuba will not make concessions inherent in its sovereignty and independence and will not negotiate its principles or accept constraints. The necessary changes in Cuba are being decided in a sovereign way by the Cuban people.”
Raúl Castro, who was present at the Santa Clara event, delegated the main address to Díaz-Canel, who is emerging as the candidate to take over if Castro retires in February 2018, as promised. In public and private statements, Díaz-Canel has done everything he can to banish the myth that he could be the reformer within the government that would lead Cuba to democracy. Above all, he has hinted that he does not support the rapprochement with the United States, a message aimed primarily at the hardliners in the Communist Party.
In a leaked video of a meeting with members of the Communist Party, Díaz-Canel said that Cuba did not have to “give anything in return” to improve relations with the U.S. and that the process of normalization of relations initiated by former President Barack Obama was just a “different way” to attempt “the destruction of the revolution.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres