Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel accused the United States of attacking Cuba through tougher sanctions and an “unconventional war” in social media to project a “false” image of the country, in a feisty speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
“For more than 60 years the United States government has not stopped for a minute in its attacks against Cuba, but at this crucial and challenging moment for all nations, its aggressiveness goes beyond limit,” Díaz-Canel said in a video recorded in Havana and broadcast on Thursday during the General Assembly session.
The Cuban leader mentioned that the current Democratic administration had kept several measures taken by its predecessor unchanged, including the inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. He also accused the U.S. of financing a campaign of “manipulation and lies” to destabilize the country.
“They have done everything to erase the Cuban Revolution from the world’s political map,” Díaz-Canel said. “Their plan is perverse and incompatible with the democracy and freedom they advocate. But our enemies must be clear that we will not surrender the homeland and the revolution.“
Díaz-Canel first spoke at the General Assembly in 2018, when he traveled to New York in his first visit to the United States after succeeding Raúl Castro in the presidency. But the tone of Thursday’s speech was more defensive, following the international condemnation of his government’s crackdown on peaceful protesters who took to the streets on July 11.
The denunciations of the embargo and what the Cuban regime believes are U.S. actions to overthrow it have been the central theme of Cuban leaders’ speeches at the General Assembly over the decades. In the background this time is a new deterioration in diplomatic relations after the anti-government protests.
Díaz-Canel blamed the United States for the popular uprising. In turn, the Biden administration has been highly critical of the Cuban regime’s violent response. The administration sanctioned several Cuban officials, the national police and elite groups deployed to crush the protests. The president has also promised to study how to bring uncensored internet service to Cubans. And the State Department launched a Twitter campaign, #JailedForWhat, to highlight the stories of the hundreds of people still detained on the island after the protests.
In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Biden mentioned Cuba in a segment devoted to the tensions between democracy and authoritarianism in today’s world.
“The truth is: The democratic world is everywhere,” Biden said. “It lives in the anti-corruption activists, the human rights defenders, the journalists, the peace protesters on the front lines of this struggle in Belarus, Burma, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, and everywhere in between.”
The mention, albeit brief, upset the Cuban leader, who replied in Spanish on Twitter: “The USA flees from the swamp that his troops helped create for 20 years in #Afghanistan and Biden intends to remove the thorn of defeat by threatening #Cuba and #Venezuela in a cynical speech. With what morality?“
On Wednesday, Díaz-Canel published a controversial image of a U.S. border patrol guard on horseback charging at Haitian immigrants, with the text: “They sell the world the ‘American dream’ and a nightmare awaits migrants at the border. Who spoke of Human Rights?” On Thursday morning, before his speech, he reposted a similar image.
The United States is not alone in its criticism of the island government’s human-rights record in international forums recently.
At a gathering of Latin American and Caribbean heads of state hosted by Mexico on Saturday, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said that in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “there is no full democracy, the separation of powers is not respected, the repressive apparatus is used to silence protests and imprison opponents, human rights are not respected.“
In a heated exchange, Lacalle read a line from “Patria y Vida,” a protest song that has become an anthem for critics of the Cuban government. Díaz-Canel replied that the Uruguayan president had “very bad taste in music.”
The exchange was far removed from the warm welcome by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who invited Diaz-Canel to give a speech during the celebrations of the country’s independence and reiterated his call to end the U.S. embargo.