Sanctions imposed by the United States (US) are a serious roadblock for Cuba doing business with other countries.
This was one of the points made by Cuban Ambassador to Cambodia Liurka Rodriguez Barrios in an exclusive interview conducted at the Cuban Embassy in Phnom Penh.
First imposed in the early 1960s, the US trade embargo prevents US businesses or businesses with commercial activities in the US from dealing with Cuba. The US imposed the embargo after the Cuban government nationalised US-owned businesses on the island.
In 2019, the Trump administration further tightened the embargo by enacting additional measures to monitor and impose punitive measures on companies, ships and shipping companies transporting fuel to Cuba.
The embargo has come under severe criticism from many quarters.
Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has passed numerous resolutions calling for the US to end its trade embargo on Cuba. The embargo can only be amended or repealed by an act of Congress.
Prime Minister Hun Sen was among the world leaders who spoke against the embargo during the 75th plenary session of the UNGA in September 2020.
“The voices of reason are stifled by the arbitrary practice of unilateral sanctions and other coercive political, economic and financial measures, all because the strongest country upholds [its] interests above everything else,” the Cambodian leader said in his virtual address to the assembly.
Rodriguez said Cuba and its people have suffered tremendously because of the embargo.
“No citizen or sector of the Cuban economy escapes the effects of the blockade, which hinders the development that any country has the right to build in a sovereign manner,” she said.
“That is why this unilateral policy is the main obstacle to the implementation of Cuba’s National Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030, as well as to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable goals,” she added.
Rodriguez said the embargo [has] had a severe impact, not only on Cubans, but also on their trade relations with other countries.
“All these measures have a strong impact on Cuba’s economic activities, particularly those related to foreign trade operations and foreign investments,” she stressed.
As a result of the embargo, international banks and other commercial interests that do business in the US are hesitant to deal with Cuba.
“It is even very hard for me or other Cubans to open a bank account here [in Cambodia],” she pointed out.
In 2018, according to the UN COMTRADE database on international trade, Cambodia imported $166,000 worth of Cuban products, mainly medicines, tobacco and beverages. During that same period, Cuba imported $111,000 of Cambodian products
Rodriguez said there are more than a few products and technologies that they could market or share with Cambodia.
She mentioned world-famous Havana cigars and Cuban rum, as well as medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.
Cuba is well-known for producing low-cost but highly-effective medicines.
On the other end, the ambassador noted that Cubans are very aware of the quality of Cambodian products such as garments, textiles and bicycles.
“There are people in Cuba [who ask] me about the excellence of [Cambodian-built] bicycles,” she noted.
In the past, there have also been discussions on knowledge transfer centred on crocodile farming, coffee and sugar. There were also discussions on exporting more vaccines and pharmaceutical products to Cambodia.
Tourism is another area where the two countries can work together, according to the Cuban envoy.
She pointed out that both countries have many interesting and beautiful tourist spots.
Cuba’s most well-known attractions include Old Havana, Parque Nacional Vinales, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Peninsula de Zapata. The beaches in Varadero and Cayo Largo del Sur are also popular with many foreign visitors.
Despite the US trade sanctions, according to Rodriguez, the Cuban government is working very hard to bring in investment and improve its trade ties with other countries.
The Cuba 2020 Business Forum will be held virtually next Tuesday and Wednesday to create a space for exchanges between Cuban businessmen and the world. The forum will explore potential markets and promote Cuban exports as well as focus on investment opportunities on the island.
“I hope Cambodian businesses would be able to join this forum,” she stressed.
Ties between Cuba and Cambodia go back a long way. The Kingdom was among the first countries in Southeast Asia to establish diplomatic ties with the Caribbean nation, doing so on April 15, 1960.
Raul Valdes Vivo, a well-known intellectual, opened the first Cuban embassy in Cambodia in 1967. Melba Hernandez, another Cuban hero, was accredited here on March 23, 1979, as the first female ambassador of Cuba to Cambodia. In 1979, a Cuban medical brigade came here to help revitalise the health system.
Since then, ties have remained strong.
In addition to trade, the two countries also cooperate in the areas of education, sports, culture and health. Cuba has an ongoing scholarship programme for Cambodian youths.
Rodriguez has been the Cuban ambassador in Cambodia since December last year. She was previously posted in Vietnam, Indonesia and Haiti.