Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel, landed Sunday in New York on his second visit to the United States to participate in several engagements during the week of meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, the largest yearly gathering of world leaders.
The visit follows a busy weekend in which Díaz-Canel hosted a summit in Havana of the group known as the G-77+China, an organization that grew out of the U.N. non-aligned movement and now includes 123 developing nations. Díaz-Canel confirmed the news of his visit to the United States, first reported by the Miami Herald, on social media Sunday morning.
Diaz-Canel’s agenda kicks off with a closed-door meeting Monday morning with U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee D-CA, a long-term supporter of normalizing relations with Cuba and a U.S. delegation member to the U.N.’s 78th General Assembly. Later in the morning, he is scheduled to give a brief speech at the political forum on sustainable development convened by the United Nations.
He was invited to speak as the current chairman of the G-77 plus China, which provides a rallying point for Díaz-Canel to deliver Cuba’s long-term policy views on promoting a “new multilateral global order” to counter U.S. influence. He is likely to talk about the impact of sanctions on the “right to development,” a reference to the U.S. embargo that Cuba inserted on the final declaration by the group that met in Havana.
But the trip offers Díaz-Canel a unique opportunity to lash out at the United States on a world stage, and a top Cuban official said he expects other countries to advocate for lifting the U.S. embargo.
“All possible spaces will be taken advantage of in that international forum to condemn the criminal blockade against Cuba and the unilateral coercive measures against any country, as well as all colonialist, hegemonist, interfering and discriminatory practices in international relations,” said Rodolfo Benítez Verson, an official at the Cuban Foreign Ministry.
“The United States’ attempts to isolate Cuba have failed miserably,” Díaz-Canel said in an interview published Sunday on the official website of the Cuban Office of the Presidency.
On Tuesday, during the general debate when world leaders give speeches, Dïaz-Canel will speak sixth in the same morning session as President Joe Biden.
On Wednesday morning, the Cuban leader will participate in a round table discussion about “fostering debt sustainability.” Cuba, which is not a member of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, last reported a foreign debt of $19.7 billion in 2020 and has failed to pay annual installments in recent years to the Paris Club, a group of officials from major creditor countries to which it owes around $2.6 billion.
Díaz-Canel traveled with his wife, Lis Cuesta, and a delegation of government officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Investment and Public Health, among others. The minister of Public Health, José Angel Portal Miranda, will participate in a meeting on universal health coverage on Thursday. While Cuba’s public health system is free, its infrastructure and services have crumbled from lack of government investment, and basic supplies and medicines are scarce.
Díaz-Canel first traveled to the United States shortly after Gen. Raúl Castro appointed him as his successor to the presidency in 2018. On that occasion, he, attended the U.N. General Assembly, met with representatives of American companies, politicians like then New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and dined and danced with his supporters at an event at the Cuban embassy in Washington. This time, he is also likely to hold events on the sidelines of the U.N.’s official agenda.
News of Díaz-Canel’s visit to the United States has drawn criticism from Cuban exiles, activists and Cuban American politicians who pointed out his government is holding around 1,000 political prisoners and that he is personally responsible for the crackdown on hundreds of demonstrators who took it to the streets in 2021 calling for political freedoms.
Cuban Freedom March, a non-profit group advocating for democratic rights in Cuba, and Cubadecide, an organization advocating holding free elections on the island, organized a protest that will take place on Thursday afternoon in front of the U.N. headquarters and will later turn into a march.
“The Cuban regime has not held democratic elections in 64 years, denying the Cuban people their right to choose their leaders. This violates the U.N. Charter’s principles of self-determination.,” the two groups said in a statement. “Furthermore, more than a thousand political prisoners, including 37 minors, languish in Cuban jails for their beliefs. This oppression is unacceptable.”
Later that day, the Human Rights Foundation will host an event moderated by Cubadecide’s coordinator and activist, Rosa María Payá, titled: “The Cuban regime poses an international threat.”
Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, the other two dictators in the region, are skipping the General Assembly but greeted Díaz-Canel in Havana as they participated in the G-77 summit that took place on Friday and Saturday.