By Owei Lakemfa
Clara Margarita Pulido Escandell is a 61-year old Cuban who breathes Africa. When I first met her and she discovered I had a trade union background, she enquired about the African labour leader, Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, the founding President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). Sunmonu had spoken at the university in Legon, Accra, Ghana when she was a Master Degree student. His Pan Africanist exhortations continues to ring in her head over three decades later.
Fidel Castro as Cuban leader believed in children and youths and was confident that once the country took good care of them, the Cuban Revolution could never be defeated. Pulido was one of those Cuban youths who came close to Fidel. Her choice of education in Africa after a first degree in Havana was deliberate. In turn, her country made good use of her preferences, enthusiasm, revolutionary spirit and Pan African inclinations. Her proficiency in Spanish, French and English also stood her in good stead.
The Pulido story is a study in how a country works at its overall interests, while developing its citizens. She rose from being a 1982 official of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (of the World) to Deputy Head of Mission in the Cuban Embassy in Ghana by 1999. Later, she was promoted the Director of the Centre for African and Middle Eastern Research.
In 2008, she was back in Africa, this time as ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, with concurrent accreditation to Djibouti and South Sudan. She stayed four years, then in 2017, returned to Africa, this time as ambassador to Algeria, with concurrent accreditation to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
When in 2019, then Cuban ambassador, Carlos Trejo Sosa, informed some of his Nigerian friends he was leaving, we expressed some sadness because he was like an elder brother who was never tired of explaining the historical links between Cuba and Africa; between this continent and Latin America. Whenever we discussed the sacrifice of thousands of Cuban youths who laid down their lives in Angola fighting the forces of Apartheid, he would tell us stories of people of African descent, like the ‘Bronz General’ Antonio Maceo, who were amongst the leaders of the liberation forces in the Cuban and Latin American wars of decolonisation.
When we raised concerns that with his recall, we are going to lose a well-grounded African, he would chuckle as if to say, she who is coming after me is even more African. Pulido’s knowledge of African history and politics are truly wide.
When she met journalists in Abuja on Thursday, February 18, she walked in wearing half boots, a kneel length overall jacket and confidence; the message and the messenger rhymed. She began by thanking Africa for its continuous support of the Cuban people in the face of a six-decade aggression and bullying by its giant neighbour, the United States of America (U.S.A).
She acknowledged the February 7 resolution of the African Union (AU) Heads of State Summit, which expressed: “serious concern about the continuous and illegal Economic, Commercial and Financial Blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The AU, in expressing “ its solidarity with the people of Cuba”, had acknowledged that the “Blockade is the main obstacle for Cuba’s implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development…”
On behalf of the Cuban people, she also expressed appreciation to leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose 2019 Summit of Heads of State in Baku, Azerbaijan, strongly condemned the blockage.
The Cuban ambassador also expressed profound appreciation to countries across the world who, at the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), reject the American blockade and unilateral sanctions imposed against Cuba. She particularly highlighted UNGA Resolution 74/7 on the necessity to end the blockade, and noted that: “The United States has ignored, with arrogance and contempt, the 28 resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly condemning the blockade…”
The blockage, she said, means that Cuba cannot import or export anything to the U.S., receive American tourists, use the U.S. dollar for foreign exchange, use credit from financial institutions or import life-saving medicines.
Pulido, who was a year old baby when the U.S. imposed the blockade, revealed that just between April 2019 and March 2020, contrary to the United Nations resolutions, the Americans carried out about 90 coercive economic actions against Cuba, “with the intention of intervening in the country’s internal affairs and in clear violation of the freedom of international trade and navigation.” These, she said, included imposing punitive sanctions against 27 companies, 54 vessels and three individuals for transporting fuel to Cuba, despite the fact that none of them were of U.S. origin. In the one year period, the US blockage she said, cost Cuba an estimated $5,570,300,000, while the accumulated quantifiable cost over the past sixty years is $1,098,008,000,000.
The blockade, she said, is so inhuman that when in 2020, the Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma (of Ali Baba), sent emergency COVID-19 supplies to various countries, including Nigeria and Cuba, the airlines, for fear of American sanctions, refused to deliver those of Cuba. To her, the blockage is actually a genocide.
Pulido said despite these pains, Cuba, in true solidarity with the rest of humanity in 2020, sent over 3,000 medical workers, including doctors and nurses in 38 medical brigades, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in 28 countries and three non-autonomous territories. This, she said, has led to various international figures and organisations like the Nigeria Labour Congress, nominating the Cuban White Shirts for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
The ambassador said while the Biden administration promises to be better than that of Trump, even under the Obama administration, the Cuban Embassy in U.S. was not allowed to use the banks. She however said Cuba is always ready to relate with all countries, provided that this is based on mutual respect. She added that Cuba is an ever hopeful country: “We are ever optimistic; were we not, we won’t be alive.”
Despite the stifling blockade and sanctions, Cuba is a model of development. Its 14-15 year olds are 100 per-cent literate; life expectancy is 77.87 years, while it has run free and qualitative healthcare and education for over 50 years. Its physicians are 5.91 per 1,000 persons; the infant mortality rate is 4.1 per 1,000 live births; unemployment is 3.8 per cent; government debt is 17 per cent, while 1.5 per cent live below the poverty line, in comparison to about 11 per cent in the U.S.
So, why is Cuba insistent that the blockage must be ended? Pulido replied: “We are not requesting this just for ourselves, but mainly for our children; children everywhere, are the future of any country.”