An opportunity for Cuba and its friends
I left the Mexican embassy in Havana in 2005, after three fascinating years. I do not have a crystal ball, but I am optimistic about Cuba’s future and the opportunities it presents for countries it has had a close historical connection with, such as Spain and Mexico. Cuba, as seen in its national emblem, is the key to the Gulf of Mexico, which merges into the Caribbean Sea. The “Pearl of the Antilles” was the strategic springboard for Spain’s entry into the Americas, a continent where it spread -across a large part of its territory- its language, culture and worldview. The normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba sets in motion a process of political, economic and cultural openness that will strengthen the vitality of the Spanish-speaking world, consisting of more than 500 million people worldwide.
With just over 11 million inhabitants and a large diaspora community, Cubans are known around the world for their excellence in the arts, sports and scientific research
I have great admiration for the Cuban people. I witnessed firsthand their high education standards, their ability to overcome adversity, their high level of social integration and their creativity. With just over 11 million inhabitants and a large diaspora community, Cubans are known around the world for their excellence in the arts, sports and scientific research. Cuba’s rich expressions of identity celebrate its European and African origins, as well as, of course, its indigenous origins. The Western end of the island, which almost touches the Yucatán, resembles Mexico, while the East is more Caribbean, a difference reflected in the music, which moves between the guitar and the bongo. In Cuba, I have always felt at home, as I now do in Spain. Both experiences, combined with that of Bolivia, where I also served as ambassador, have convinced me that there is a Latin American culture that transcends language and grows in importance alongside the sum of our respective economies.
From my time in Cuba, I remember the positive impression its education system left on me. I visited several schools in Punta de Maisí, the place where Cuba almost meets Haiti. Even in its remotest areas, we were greeted by perfectly uniformed and cheerful children. The children received food upon starting and completing their school day, while their parents were busy working in the fields. I also visited rural schools in the west, where there were simple computers powered by solar energy. I never ceased to be amazed that Cubans produced their own educational “software,” which I thought could be used in Mexico as well. I was struck by the emphasis placed on learning foreign languages, especially English. Something else I noticed was the attention given to the disabled, who were fully integrated into the classroom, resulting in a positive learning experience for all children. Adult education is also excellent; at the time, several Mexican governors had hired Cuban literacy services for remote areas, with very good results. Cuba has one of the highest rates of schooling in Latin America and illiteracy is almost nonexistent.
During the 36 years I have spent in the Mexican foreign service, I have seen for myself the high standards of my Cuban counterparts and the wide and effective network of embassies around the world. When Mexico had to run campaigns in order to win an election in the United Nations (U.N.), we relied on Cuba’s support to introduce our candidates. In Africa, and even the Anglophone Caribbean, we received more invaluable support. I have always found Cuban diplomats to be among the best informed. When they apply their work discipline to making their economy competitive in the world, I hope they will use the same economic integration framework as we do, because they have much to contribute.
I have always found Cuban diplomats to be among the best informed. When they apply their work discipline to making their economy competitive in the world, I hope they will use the same economic integration framework as we do, because they have much to contribute
Since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, social investment was prioritized over infrastructure, and equality as a goal over economic efficiency. However, Cuba has already set down the path of economic openness and liberalization in order to increase its productivity. If Cubans succeed in opening their economy to international competition, nothing and nobody will stop them. They are already a privileged tourist destination with enormous growth potential thanks to their unsurpassed geographical location. Spain contributes with hotel and tourism investments to facilitate “multi-destination” tourism in the Caribbean, which is becoming increasingly attractive in light of the security challenges faced by other regions of the world. Countries that have been friends of Cuba through a shared history and despite its forced isolation, such as Spain and Mexico, should support this openness so the island can develop successfully at the pace, in the time and in the manner determined by the Cubans themselves. A globally-integrated and prosperous Cuba will strengthen Latin America as a whole.