His Excellency Zenén Buergo Concepción is the Ambassador of Republic of Cuba to Islamic Republic of Pakistan. During his so far stay in Islamabad, Ambassador Zenen has earned a lot of popularity not only amongst the socio-cultural circles of Pakistan due to immensely engaging in all social events but he is also very much respected in the Islamabad-based global diplomatic community for his extraordinary views of issues across the world. As a major development took place when United States resumed its diplomatic relations with Cuba and both Washington and Havana opened up their embassies in each other’s capitals after almost five decades, we arranged a special sitting with Ambassador Zenen to get his views not only on this historic development but also about Pakistan-Cuba relations and his experience about socio- cultural life in Pakistan that we are publishing for our valued readers.
Cuba & United States have restored Diplomatic relations after a long phase of immense tension. What do you think was the basic factor that eventually pushed Washington to restore diplomatic ties with Havana?
Let me give you the brief answer, in my opinion, there were three main reasons behind this development; The first reason, I think, was the resistance of Cuban people, we are a small island with only 11.2m people that have been suffering the biggest and longest blockade against any other country in the history of human being. As a small country, very close to the superpower, both we have been giving a sample of resistance that we are defending our country and our independence, we were and we are ready to make any kind of sacrifice in defense of our country. So the main reason was the constant and unshaken resistance by the Cuban people. The second one has been the unity between the people and government of Cuba. You are not to going to get anything if you are divided, Cuba, during all these years since the Cuban Revolution, remained united and the public remained fully behind its leadership in putting up this resistance. And the third one, in my opinion, was the Solidarity, international solidarity of many countries and many friends that Cuba has around the world and they have been helping Cuba. These are the main three factors that contributed mainly to this historic development.
What political and diplomatic gains will Havana likely be having with the restoration of these ties?
For many years the international community has been supporting Cuba regarding the blockade by the US. You remember that during the last 23 years we have been presenting resolutions in United Nation requesting to lift the blockade against Cuba. Last year 188 countries, almost all the international community were supporting this resolution, only two against, America and Israel. We have also presented a resolution against the blockade recently, last month on 27th Oct, 2015 and this time 191 countries supported Cuba.
With reestablishing of diplomatic relations, our economical situation will increase, there are lots of countries sending commercial delegations to Cuba, even for investing in Cuba because we approved a new law for investment, now we are requesting to the foreign businessman to come to Cuba and help in developing our economy. Until now we have been improving our economy, in the last 3-4 years GDP has been increasing but it is not enough, we need more foreign capital, we want to improve the quality of life in Cuba. We sought to receive support and foreign investment, then of course there is another thing that will help, more people want to know about Cuba, it will increase tourism. Last year we had more than 3.1 million tourists but this year it will increase a lot because lot of people are visiting Cuba for many reasons. Cuba is a beautiful country, we have no problem with the security, people feel safe there. They feel they are going to see a country that has been putting up unprecedented resistance against all types of aggression and they want to know how these people are living, they want to know about the Cuban revolution. Cuba at the same is one of best country in education and health in the world. For instance, I would like to mention that the last report of World Bank in 2014 recognized that Cuba is best country in education in Latin America, despite the fact that we have not receive any loans from the World Bank. Then the Pope Frances made visit to Cuba in September, it was very successful visit, all of this situation of course will help to have a better condition.
We can say we will have normal relations with the US, the day it lifts the blockade, the day it returns Guantanamo Bay to the Cuban people. In my opinion, in order to maintain normalize diplomatic relations, US must lift the blockade; returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuban people because it is territory that belongs to Cuba and to stop interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs.
What impact could these resumed diplomatic make on the case of Cuban-five?
Well, you know that in the Cuban-five already they have back in Cuba after restoration of diplomatic relations with Government of United States. US President announced that we are going to re-establish diplomatic relations on December 17th, 2014. Cuban-five is one of the best example that I was telling you the resistance of Cuban people, they represent the base of Cuban people, they were in jail for many years but they resisted because they were showing the rest of the world that we have the right direction, that we are doing the right thing, defending our country. People outside tried to control Cuba, dominate Cuba and to tell us what we must do.
What development do you see will take place on Cuban economy, trade, health, education etc with the restoration of ties with Washington?
We are going to improve in a very consistent way; our development in the future will not depend on the relationship with United States, it will be something new, something that will help but we have relationships with so many countries in the world that they will help to improve our economy.
Of course it will be a support, it will increase the relationship, it will benefit both, we have something that we can sell to American market and we can receive something from the American market, I have many friends in United States, they visit Cuba only to explore the opportunities but they cannot make a deal because of the blockade. Then we are making a deal to improve our economy with some other countries those who don’t have problem with the blockade, we have a good relationship with all countries in Europe and we are improving. Now there is a delegation from our Ministry of Foreign Trade in the Middle East, we are increasing the relations with Saudi Arab, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, all of them are going to Cuba and like to invest in Cuba to improve our bilateral relations.
The situation we had before the revolution in 1959, at that time we had to depend on United States but that era is gone far. Let me give you for an example. Cuba was under full control of United States, they were the owner of Cuba. Only they would decide who will be the President, they supported the coup of Fulgencio Batista. The most important and most influential person in Cuba before 1959 used to be the American Ambassador. Sugar was the major good/product in our economy before 1959, we produce lot of sugar but we can’t sell it to American markets, at that time, only they (American) had to decide, you can sell sugar worth of $2m and not more than that. We sell brown sugar to United States then we buy white sugar because we don’t had refinery and this is an example of how our economy used to depend upon the United States. But this state of affairs has changed and now we have trade and economic relationship with all countries around the world and we are not going to leave this kind of relationship that we have established during all these years simply because we now have relationship with United States.
But I would like to add something more here; in this relationship, US can get benefit from Cuba. For instance, we receive the Governor Andrew Cuomo from New York a few months back. He visited Cuba along with a group of businessmen and they tried to know about the development of Cuba in the field of Bio-Technology that has been one of the priorities of Cuba. Now Cuba is one of the best countries in the world in this field. Similarly, we have some medicines against cancers and United States doesn’t have those medicines. They have signed an agreement with Cuba and now very soon the American CDC may be improve the quality of life, may be they live longer because now they receive medicine against cancer.
A small country with a population of only 11m, suffering a huge economic blockade for more than 55 years, imagine it and now we have the medicine against cancer that the Super Power wants. I think we can collaborate with US in other fields too. The more important thing is that we can solve the difference in the most peaceful manner and through appropriate dialogue.
Our philosophy that I would like to mention here, is that at this moment we have around 65 thousand people working in 85 countries around the world that includes mainly the doctors and paramedical experts. We are sending these people to all of these countries to save lives whereas some other countries are sending soldiers with guns; gun is only used to kill people and that is the difference. We are saving life and they are trying to kill people. That is why we think the only solution that we have in this moment is to only collaborate to save humanity. I think the situation of Cuba will be much better in coming few years because Cuban people have been suffering a lot of restrictions but at the same time with limited resources we have established a quality society where education and health is free for every citizen. It will not be deducted from their salaries, you can have a family with 10 children and you don’t need a huge salary because may be you are not a professional but every child can go to school and study, they will get free education till university, all expenses are on State.
Some people say that now you have relationship with United States, may be you are going to change; of course we are going to change but we are going to change in a better way and we are going to change to consolidate our principle of justice, social equality and international solidarity.
What are your & your government’s expectations about Socio-Economic development of Cuba in the background of restored diplomatic relations with United States?
We are offering to have businessman from United States, already we have some commercial relationship but the conditions that they have established, we cannot improve our economic and commercial relationship with United States because they are not giving credit, we must have to pay in banks or cash. First condition in order to improve our bilateral relationship with United States in the field of economical and commercial field is to lift the blockade and to have a normal relationship as two independent countries, sovereignty countries, on the equal conditions, that is the base for a better relationship. We hope that in near future nobody know when they will lift the blockade, I think that the President Obama is using his executive power the make blockade easy before eliminating the full blockade. President Obama is requesting to American Congress to lift the blockade. We cannot improve our bilateral relations in Blockade, they are trying to find every company in the world that has relationship with Cuba, and it is a contradiction. They say that they want to improve and recognize Cuban Government but at the same time you have a knife in your coat. I want to be your friend with knife, how is that possible.
Fidel Castro has been maintaining a very stiff stance towards US, do you think there would be some major changes in Havana’s foreign policy with this latest development?
I would tell you that Fidel Castro had tried to have a very good relationship with United States in the beginning of the revolution. The first trip that Fidel made to United States was in April 1959, he received an invitation from the Association of Journalists of United States. He was talking to Legal Chief of United States that Cuba now is an independent country, Cuba now need the support and the aid of United States but in a different way. United States don’t understand and they decided confrontation and not to collaborate with this new government and then they took wave of aggression and tried to kill Fidel. There were conspiracies hatched to kill Fidel at more than 600 accessions and this is the information that you can’t get from Americans or other western media. We want to have a good relationship with United States but they don’t understand that the Cuban revolution was something new in Latin America that started to work for the majority of the people not for minority. They took the decision and tried to stop this revolution, to destroy this revolution, to kill Fidel. You remember Bay of Pig in 1961, they sent invasion to Cuba and they could not destroy the Cuban revolution because the majority of the people was supporting the revolution and that is the reason I was explaining the resistance, you cannot resist if you don’t have the support of majority of the people and if you are in minority then Cuba could have disappeared a long ago.
How do you see the future of Pakistan-Cuba relations and what are the areas where both countries could help each other in coming years?
You remember that a few days back, there was earthquake in Pakistan. At that time we were observing the 10th anniversary of the earthquake in 2005, 14th of October only 6 days after the earthquake, Cuba sent a group of doctors to help Pakistan. We were the first to arrive and we stayed here for 7 months and were the last to leave. 2600 people came here and we opened 32 field hospitals and then you can see how is it possible that this small country, not rich country, we don’t have national resources, people were surprised that how in this condition with blockade, Cuba could send 2600 people all the way to Pakistan and to stay there for 7 months and to open 32 hospitals freely and to bring technology and tons of medicines? We donated everything to the government of Pakistan, that is why we believe and we will continue working for international solidarity after the earthquake we gave a scholarship program to Pakistan. We gave 1000 students, fully funded scholarship program that has been the biggest scholarship program Pakistan has received from any other foreign country. First batch of Pakistani student under this scholarship program arrived in Cuba in 2007 and second batch in 2008. They stayed in Cuba for 7 years and studied medicine. They are back in Pakistan now. The last graduation was in February 2014 and second was this year and now they are in Pakistan. You have almost 1000 doctors of medicine, graduated from Cuba. Now after 7 years they are back in Pakistan and they are ambassador from Cuba in Pakistan because they know lot of things about Cuba, they love Cuba because it is almost their second house and now they are here talking about Cuba and now more Pakistani people know that Cuba is a friendly country of Pakistan and that Cuba has always been supporting Pakistan.
Just last month, we marked 60th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Cuba. We signed diplomatic relations on 28th October 1955. Before the revolution, we did not have relationship but since the 1955, Cuba sent first official delegation to Pakistan. Chief of that delegation was Che Guevara in 1959 who met with the then President of Pakistan Ayub Khan and the Foreign Affair Minister Manzur Qadir and we expressed that we would like to have good relationship with Pakistan. Though geographic distance between Pakistan and Cuba is very far but we are very close in our heart with Pakistan.
We have something that we signed in 2009, a government agreement for collaboration in economical, commercial and scientific field then we have a legal document to improve our bilateral relationship, in this way we are working. I can tell you that still the economical and commercial relationship is not what we like, on both sides we agree to work more to improve our bilateral relationship. I hope in near future we will have a better relationship. Until now one of the main thing that we have been doing was the scholarship program that finished this year. I have been working very close with Higher Education Commission (HEC). The chairman of the Higher Education Commission received an invitation to go Cuba, he will go in next February. It will be a very important visit because he will go to participate in International Conference of Higher Education in Cuba but at the same time he make a bilateral visit to explore and talk with our local authorities, to see how we can improve our relationship in field of higher education in scientific field, in agriculture even in biotechnology because he has plan to visit our biotechnology center then I think this visit that will be very soon in next 4 months will be very important for the future of our bilateral relationship, then we received the chairman of senate in 2012, we received the speaker in November 2014, now in National Assembly and Senate we have a friendship group with Cuba, we have in our Parliament a friendship group with Pakistan and all of these things are going to help to improve our bilateral relationship. We had been working in the commercial field, trying to receive from Cuba, Pakistani businessman can export goods to Cuba but still we are not very satisfied because in this particular situation, we are receiving some goods from Pakistan but mainly through the third country not direct and we would like to start direct commercial relationship with Pakistan, we would like to see if we can find some Pakistani businessman that can invest in Cuba because we have the new foreign law that we are giving opportunities and possibilities on very good condition to foreign businessman to invest in Cuba. Perhaps, some other field we are working is to improve our collaboration in national disaster, we are planning sign a government agreement cultural activities and to collaborate in National Library, Radio, TV. One important thing is economical and commercial collaboration, we are also talking about the collaboration in the health field, mainly to see if we can give our experience in care system that everybody in the world recognizes that Cuba is one of the best country in the health system.
What is the potential of increasing Pakistan-Cuba trade volume and in which areas?
Well! From Cuba we can increase the commercial bilateral relationship; we are interested to import surgical instruments, textile, sports good, rice etc. From Cuba we can export biotechnological pharmaceutical products, we can collaborate, we are increasing the export of Cigar to the markets of Pakistan. Lot of people love Cuban cigar and you know that the Cuban cigar is one of the best in the world. Very soon before the end of this year we are going to open for the first time a Cuban Cigar House here in Islamabad. Already a Pakistani businessman went to Cuba and discussed with the Havana’s company and made a joint-venture and that is the first joint-venture regarding cigar.
How do you see Cuba can benefit from China-Pakistan Economic Corridor?
Well! China is second partner already and we have a very good relationship with China. Everything that is good for Pakistan and China in the commercial field that will be good for us. I am sure that we will benefit because if Pakistan and China will improve the economy then there will be more opportunities to have relationship with some other countries and I am sure that Cuba will get benefit by the development of Pakistan. Already I know that Government of Pakistan would like to improve the relationship with Latin American countries and something that we are requesting is to use Cuba, it is a friendly country of Pakistan, go to Cuba for investment, from Cuba you can export to the north and the south because Cuba is in middle of Latin America.
How do you see the security situation in Pakistan especially after the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb by Pakistan Army?
This is internal issue here. I have been here for 5 years and Cuba always has been supporting fight against terrorism and we fully support all people those are working for a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan. This is the position of Cuba and we recognize the sacrifice that Pakistan has made with regard to fighting the menace of terrorism. We know very well outbursts of terrorism because we also suffered it in Cuba and we know very well where these terrorists come from. The terrorism against Cuba was supported by Cuba’s foreign enemies and we lost so many people, just like you have suffered in Pakistan. In Cuba we lost more than 3500 people. Terrorist organizations have been receiving the support and funds from our hostile neighbor. A Passenger Fight was blasted with bomb while it was going to Cuba with group of some Cuban and foreigners. It was a terrorist attack in 1976 and everybody died and the terrorists those planned it, are still living in the countries like the US. We are against all kinds of terrorism, there are no good and bad terrorists, terrorist is only terrorist.
Situation is improving here now, I have been here for about 5 years and I have seen a lot of terror incidents. But now people feel more safe here, they are traveling more, making tours, going to different places. Attacks of terrorists have reduced now. Always we have been traveling to many places, for us always we feel safe here since the beginning. I really see it as a great achievement of Pakistan government and its security Forces the way they have successfully conducted the operation to eliminate the monster of terror.
Since media is considered as a major tool in promoting relations between the nations how do you see the possibility of media cooperation between Pakistani & Cuban Media for this purpose?
You know that already in last September we signed a MoU with a local Pakistani newspaper, they have been publishing many articles on Cuba and now we are talking with other newspapers to see if we can improve. I think that is good for both sides because here the people will receive more information and will know more about Cuba and in Cuba we can receive more information. We only receive the information that big media agencies produce and they control the information. For example I would tell you that people around the world have very negative image and news from Pakistan but information people is in the control of only 5 or 6 big news agencies, no direct information from Pakistan because you don’t have the opportunity disseminate information, it is controlled from United States, France, Germany and UK. I think we must do more to collaborate in media, I feel that in the last years we seen information on Cuba is increasing and I hope that we will receive more opportunities to give more information and people will receive more information about Cuba and we would like more information from Pakistan because the information from Pakistan we can only get through these big agencies and they are publishing a news only when something negative happens in Pakistan.. these Western news agencies don’t publish news when good and amazing things take place in Pakistan, you will never see a single news about traditional festival, news about the conferences in Pakistan Agricultural Research Center or when there is some important research emerges from Agriculture University of Faisalabad. it is very big university with more than 25,000 students, they don’t publish any news about COMSATS Institute of Technology, that is again a very good institution.
It has been quite some time that you are representing Cuba in Pakistan now. How has been the experience not only as a Diplomat but as a Cuban National in Pakistan and How have you found Socio-Cultural life here, since you traveled across many cities in Pakistan?
It has been a great experience in Pakistan right from the day one. I have made lot of friends here. It is very easy to get inside the socio-cultural life of Pakistan because of the similarities between our people and how we receive the hospitality and the friendship of Pakistani people. Perhaps, you don’t have that much information in media but people to people they have been very close.
To increase our bilateral relations in cultural field, I remember that we brought for the first time a group of musicians in Pakistan, never before Cuba have sent a group of musicians and I was a little worried that how the people of Pakistan will receive Cuban music and they were 3 young people that came to work in National College of Arts in Lahore, teaching music at the same time and making a performance on Cuban songs. Well! They stayed here for almost 6 months, from September 2012 to March 2013 and they made 52 performances at TV, radio, universities, lot of schools. Something that was very good was that we brought a cigar roller for the first time in December 2013. For the first time a cigar roller came here, Pakistani people had never seen how to make a cigar, they came here with a lady and made cigars in front of the people and then she made a performance at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and she stayed in Pakistan for about one month.
I feel very well and very comfortable with Pakistani people. We have established a very friendly relationship that is the greatest experience after many other countries where I have been. It is an opportunity for me and my wife to know very great people, lovely people, people that respect Cuba and at the same time they know that we are very far from Pakistan but we respect Pakistan and Cuba always will be supporting Pakistan as we have been working very closely for many years.