Cuba’s new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, makes his first appearance at the United Nations

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel talks to the press upon his arrival in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.
Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel talks to the press upon his arrival in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. AFP/Getty Images

Cuba’s handpicked President Miguel Díaz-Canel began his first appearance at the United Nations lauding “blood ties” between Cuba and Africa at a session dedicated to peace and to pay homage to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

“Cuba is honored to remember that it shared its struggles in the first line of combat with its African brothers from Angola and Namibia” Díaz-Canel said, adding “we will never forget Cuito Cuanavale,” an off-script reference to the bloody battle in which the Cuban military presence was deemed a decisive factor in the defeat of forces supported by the South African apartheid regime in Angola.

Díaz-Canel then invoked the Castro brothers to praise Mandela’s memory.

“The first secretary of our Party, General of the Army, Raúl Castro, described Mandela as a prophet of unity, reconciliation and peace. For his part, the commander-in-chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, defined him as an example of ‘an absolutely intimate man,’“ he said.

Díaz-Canel used the rest of his brief remarks to reaffirm some of Cuba’s official positions on foreign policy: the condemnation of the arms race; inequality and poverty as a basis for violent conflicts; and the affirmation of the principle of sovereignty.

“International peace remains threatened by the philosophy of domination,” he said, adding that, like Mandela, Cubans “also want to be masters of our own destiny.”

The Cuban leader arrived in New York on Sunday accompanied by several Cuban ministers and his wife, Liz Cuesta. Speaking to the Cuban press with a portrait of the late Fidel Castro behind him, Díaz-Canel said he was coming to the United Nations to bring a “message of peace” and “to denounce the aberrant policy” of the U.S. embargo on the island.

“With all our strength, we are going to ratify that denunciation at a time when there is a setback in relations with the United States government, where there is an administration that has returned to the discourse of the cold war,” he said. “It is an administration with which it is difficult to advance in a relationship between equals. We also seek a civilized relationship despite ideological differences. “

In a sign of tattered relations, no meeting is scheduled between President Donald Trump and Díaz-Canel.

By contrast, former President Barack Obama met with Raúl Castro at the U.N. in 2015 and both spoke on the same day before the General Assembly.

This year, Díaz-Canel is scheduled to speak on Wednesday, one day after Trump addresses the General Assembly. The State Department has not announced any planned meetings between members of the U.S. and Cuba delegations. The White House also has not said if the Cuban president has been invited to a reception hosted by Trump on Monday night.

Following the morning session, Díaz-Canel met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Ecuador’s president Lenín Moreno.

His visit to New York is carefully choreographed to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro. Díaz-Canel said the trip to the United States, his first as president, brought to mind childhood memories of seeing Fidel and then Raúl take part in the United Nations.

The homage to Fidel Castro includes Díaz-Canel’s participation in an event at Riverside Church in Manhattan, where Castro was welcomed by supporters in 2000. The Cuban leader will also hold meetings with Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Meanwhile, protests are expected to take place during the General Assembly to “denounce the dictatorships” in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to a statement from the Cuba Archive organization.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres