Cuban foreign minister: Warming with US is irreversible

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Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla talks during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 in New York. The foreign minister says he believes improvements in relations with the United States are irreversible despite the Trump administration’s hardening of the embargo on the island. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

NEW YORK (AP) — Cuba’s foreign minister said Tuesday that he believes improvements in relations with the United States are irreversible despite the Trump administration’s hardening of the embargo on the island.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told The Associated Press that while the U.S. administration has cut off most communication with Cuba and is trying to pressure the communist government by restricting the flow of oil, progress made under former U.S. President Barack Obama has not been undone.

“I would describe myself as extremely optimistic,” Rodríguez said. “There’s a historical trend that’s irreversible.”

He said relations between the two countries would never return to the way they were before December 2014, when Obama and then-Cuban President Raúl Castro declared that they would reestablish diplomatic relations.

“There have been levels of communication and mutual familiarity between the peoples of both countries that are irreversible,” Rodríguez said.

He said Cuba was prepared for a worsening of tensions during the presidential campaign season because the Trump administration believes that Cuban Americans in South Florida support a hard line on the island.

He called that an “erroneous political calculation.”

“I believe it’s proven that the majority of Cubans in Florida support the advances in the normalization of relations and the lifting of the blockade, and the younger they are, the more they support it,” Rodríguez said. “Regardless, political moments are ephemeral. We have the political will to advance without delay.”

He also says Cuba is finding ways to buy oil despite U.S. attempts to stop it by imposing sanctions on shipping firms and threatening third countries, insurance firms and others with retaliation for helping Cuba obtain petroleum.

Oil shortages led to cutbacks in government fuel consumption and distribution last month, resulting in long lines at gas stations and reductions in public transport.

“We’ve increased our ability to transport (oil). The way the world works today makes it impossible for the United States to impede the arrival of oil tankers in Cuba,” Rodríguez said.

The Trump administration says it is trying to force Cuba to stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom the U.S. says receives military and intelligence help from Cuba.

The Cuban foreign minister flatly denied that his country was providing any military, security or intelligence help to Venezuela, contradicting Trump’s Sept. 24 accusation before the U.N. General Assembly that “Maduro is a Cuban puppet protected by Cuban bodyguards.”

“We don’t have a military presence in Venezuela. We don’t participate or assist military, security or intelligence operations,” Rodríguez said. “The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is a pretext. … They’re attacking the successful (Cuban) political model, which works, which is a successful economic and social model, because it’s withstood six decades despite the (U.S.) blockade.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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