Cuba’s Ambassador to Australia, Abelardo Curbelo Padron, has a history of political activism that goes back more than half a century.
As a teenager he was part of the revolution, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, which ousted the Government of Fulgencio Batista and set Cuba on a socialist path. Now aged 70 he is a relentless lobbyist for an end to the United States economic embargo, imposed in 1962, which hamstrings his country’s relations with the rest of the world.
Padron points out that while other countries can ostensibly make up their own minds whether to trade with Cuba or not, the US’s pervading economic influence makes it extremely difficult to do so. “Any organisation, such as a bank, that has dealings with us and also has links with the US risks sanctions, so many do not take the risk,” he says.
He says the US keeps on changing the pretexts for keeping up what Cubans call el bloquero or “the blockade”.
“In the beginning it was because we were supporting revolution in South America. After the 1960s it was because we were in alliance with the Soviet Union. After that it was because we were supporting revolutionary forces in Africa, then it was because they had problems with our human rights record and now the pretext is that we are a terrorist country.
“We are against terrorism; we don’t want terrorism on our soil and we have no relations with any terrorist organisation. On the contrary, we are acting against terrorism.
“But when the US includes us on a list of countries that support terrorism, we have problems around the world. The US is strong and it is difficult to work in contradiction to the US.”
However Padron says that despite the stringencies of the embargo the Cuban revolution continues. “This is America’s real fear,” he said.
“In Latin America countries with many social and economic problems people see Cuba doing well in terms of housing, education and health in spite of the conditions we work under. They watch us and wonder whether the Cuban system might not be the best for them as well.”
He rejects any suggestion that the people are living under a dictatorship. “It has only been possible for us to maintain the Cuban system because we have the support of the majority of the population. Yes, we have many problems - in the economy, in agriculture - but we are trying to develop the country and have many objectives and targets. The people know this and appreciate it.”
Padron is his country’s first resident ambassador in Australia and is upbeat about future relations with Canberra. “We feel the tendency is very positive,” he said.
“I have had one appointment with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr [Stephen] Smith last year and then he met the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs [Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla] both at the United Nations and then on a visit to Cuba.
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.