The most successful Cuban diplomatic initiative with American allies, again, has been the case of Canada. Although there have been changes of government in Ottawa, relations have remained stable and fruitful for both sides, with Canada transforming itself into Cuba’s first tourist market, first Western investment associate, and fourth-largest trading partner.

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But in economic terms, the most important countries for Cuba since 1989 have been China and Venezuela, also political allies in their own right. It would be impossible to describe in a short analysis like this one, all the initiatives that underline the importance of these two countries and the achievements of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy. Suffice it to say that agreements with China have guaranteed Cuba access to investments and technology, whilst Venezuela has become the major supplier of oil and investments. Respecting Venezuela, both Havana and Caracas have emphasized that they are working towards an economic union. On its side, Cuba has given Venezuela medical and technical support for its socialist transformation.

Since the early 1990s, Cuba had to neutralize Washington’s renewed ‘regime change’ policy, which was evident not only in the administrations of George W.H. Bush (1989–1993) and George W. Bush (2001–2009) but also under that of Bill Clinton (1993–2001), which approved the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, re-enforcing U.S. illegal unilateral economic sanctions. During this period, Cuba has displayed two parallel efforts towards the United States. On one side, it has maintained its intractable resistance position, not agreeing to any concession in the most difficult economic circumstances as was the case in 1989–1994. On the other, it has been willing to work with the United States in negotiating an end of conflict and the beginning of normalization. This latter policy succeded in a later period when Raúl Castro and Barack Obama signed the historic agreement of 17 December 2014. In the context of both initiatives, rejecting American pressures, Cuba reiterated again and again the defense of its national sovereignty and security.

Three examples present themselves. In 1990, the United States carried on important military maneuvers in the Caribbean combining Global Shield, Ocean Venture and the regular exercises in the Guantanamo Naval Base. Havana responded with its own Cuban Shield military exercises at which were shown for the first time its Mig29 advanced interceptor jets. A second occasion was in 1996, when Cuban jets brought down two airplanes operating from Florida airports by the Brothers to the Rescue counter-revolutionary organization. Cuba tried to solve the problem of the violation of its air space by these flights through diplomatic channels and applied force only as a last resort. The third occasion was between 2003 and 2004 when the George W. Bush administration reinforced its regime change policy.

Nevertheless, Cuba has continued to demonstrate its will to reach diplomatic and confidence building agreements with the United States. Two instances can be pointed out: the negotiation and signing of the 1994–1995 immigration accords and the creation of a confidence building regime in the Guantánamo Naval Base area between the armed forces of both countries.

In the meantime, Cuban diplomacy attained its objective of getting the UN General Assembly to condemn and demand the end of the economic sanctions. That issue was raised for the first time in 1992 and, perhaps, surprisingly, a majority of Powers supported the Cuban position. Cuba has also condemned the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001 and produced a positive press release when the United States decided to use the Guantánamo Naval Base as a prison for terrorist detainees in 2002. As the revelations of gross violations of human rights in the Base became known, Cuba joined the condemnation by the international community. It has criticized the United States ‘War on Terror’ but, at the same time, has proposed to Washington the signing of an anti-terrorist agreement. Between 2001 and 2014, the United States rejected any deal on that issue, even though it was offered in good faith.

In Latin America and the Caribbean since the end of the |Cold War, Cuban revolutionary diplomacy was able to take advantage of the triumph of left and center-left leaders in almost a dozen countries, beginning with the victory of Hugo Chávez in the 1998 Venezuelan elections. Havana strengthened its relations not only with the more revolutionary leaderships in Caracas, La Paz, and Quito, but also with the moderate ones in Brasilia, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. A significant element of Cuban diplomacy has been to exploit its strengths to re-enforce its relations even with conservative administrations in Mexico, Colombia, and Panama. The Cuban government expanded its ‘medical diplomacy’ in the region and demonstrated a capacity to co-operate in areas like education, sports, and energy.

President Obama himself, before his 2014 opening, recognized the value of ‘medical diplomacy’ at a press conference during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad Tobago in April 2009. Recently, Cuba was able to consolidate its position as an important player in the region.

Between 1989 and 2006, Cuban revolutionary diplomacy continued to exercise an important role in the Third World. Part of that result was due to the extension of its ‘medical internationalism.’ But Havana has used more traditional methods. The effort was rewarded in 2006 when Cuba became one of the few Powers that have hosted a Non-Aligned Movement Summit two times.

5. Updating (2006–2014)

Explaining Cuban revolutionary diplomacy without underlining the deciding influence of Fidel Castro, both in content as in form, is impossible. Since his first major international speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1960, the public statements of the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, both official and unofficial, became a fundamental reference for world political development. He became a natural presence at every major summit in which his country participated. He was honored, among others, by the World Health Organization. His world view represented not only the official positions of Cuba, but the feelings and aspirations of millions around the world. Therefore, his absence from the helm of Cuba after resigning for health reason in 2006, made inevitable a challenging updating of Cuban diplomacy.

It is obvious that Fidel Castro’s style and stature are irreplaceable and the first one to recognize it has been his successor, President Raúl Castro. Nevertheless, the legacy of the former is perfectly seen in the content of the traditional Cuban diplomatic counter hegemonic practice carried out by the latter.

Although undermined by President Donald Trump since he entered the White House in January 2017, Cuban diplomacy’s most significant success in this period was the signing of the 17 December 2014 agreement between Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama. This accord meant that both countries would reestablish diplomatic relations as a first step towards normalization of their relations. Although Havana did not achieve immediately its main objectives, it was a first step that should not be underestimated. Those objectives are the lifting of the American blockade or embargo, the abandonment of all regime change related policies, the return of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base, the elimination of the Cuban Adjustment Act (a law of Congress that stimulated illegal emigration) and a mutually satisfactory solution to the claims that each country has against each other. Twenty-two intergovernmental agreements were signed and normalization talks were started on more than 20 issues, with working groups addressing them. Barack Obama visited Cuba in March 2016 and signed in October a presidential directive in which for the first time regime change is abandoned as a policy purpose.

These achievements are controversial. Critics have pointed out that some of the regime change policies remain and that Donald Trump has proclaimed that he will cancel everything if Havana does not make concessions which are unacceptable for Cuba because they encroach on its sovereignty and self-determination. Since it is impossible that something like that happens, the potential for a total reversal is still among the possible outcomes.

Between 2006 and 2017, Cuban diplomacy made big strides in its relations with regional partners. They were evident, among other developments, in the founding and subsequent summits carried out by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), one of which took place in Havana in 2014; in the presence of Cuban President for the first time, in the IX Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015; in the Cuban facilitation of the peace agreement in Colombia; in the intense relations with Caribbean countries; in the protagonist role of Cuban diplomacy in different regional groupings; and in the development of bilateral diplomatic relations with every state of the region, including those with conservative right wing positions.

As to relations with its main great power partners, conditions were better than in the previous period. China continued been the number one trade, financial and political ally of Cuba. Besides the intense participation of China in the economic reform process launched under Raúl Castro, a continuation of the relationship developed between Jiang Zemin and Fidel Castro, there have been vigorous exchanges between the two leaderships.

The linkages of Cuba with other significant great power actors were developed even more in recent years.

Cuban diplomacy has made important strides in its relationships with Russia. Although there was a noticeable progress in bilateral relations with the rise of Vladimir Putin and intense exchanges were carried out with Fidel Castro in the early years of the new century, relations really picked up after Raúl Castro became President in 2008. Between that year and 2009, presidential visits were exchanged. Dimitry Medvedev traveled to Havana in November 2008 and signed agreements strengthening economic ties specially in the oil prospection and mining spheres. Two months later Raúl Castro signed additional accords which included several lines of credit. In 2013 both countries expanded substantially their mutual linkages with understandings that covered a wide variety of spheres. Finally, in July 2014, Vladimir Putin initiated a tour of Latin American and Caribbean countries with a visit to Havana where he announced the decision to wipe clean 90 percent of the island’s $35 billion debt to Moscow and announced deals to invest in Cuba’s offshore oil industry.

In 2008, Havana responded pragmatically to a European Union proposal to start negotiations for the signing of a cooperation and political dialogue agreement. Although Brussels’ did not make it clear that the elimination of the Common Position could be subject to negotiations, Cuban diplomats reasoned pragmatically and correctly that reaching such an accord would make the Common Position irrelevant as the legal basis for mutual relations. In any case, both sides negotiated for almost 10 years and eventually the agreement was signed in 2016 and approved by the European Parliament in 2018. Thereafter, the Common Position was abandoned by the European Council. This facilitated the political and economic interactions with Europe, producing, among others, the visit to Cuba of the Presidents of France and Ireland and the Prime Minister of Italy. Raúl Castro made an official visit to Paris in 2015. Nevertheless, this is only a beginning. The Cuban interest in the European Union is mainly in the economic sphere, where the signing of a renegotiation of its debt with the Club of Paris was a significant step forward. For the time been, the tourist sphere seems to have reacted more positively than all others, with increases of visitors and of investment in the hospitality sector in the Island.

In the new context created after 2008, Cuban diplomacy continued to make progress in its relations with Canada, where the advent of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the head of Ottawa’s government strengthened a relationship that was already good in the economic sphere. Hardly a year had passed since his inauguration when the young liberal Canadian leader visited Havana, the first such visit since his father did it in 1975. Havana has shown significant pragmatism in safeguarding the relationship with Ottawa with both conservative and liberal governments. Canada is Cuba’s number one market for tourism and is among top three partners in trade and investment.

A significant event took place in September 2016, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese Head of Government to visit Cuba. It was a proper moment to continue developing a relationship that had been positively influenced by the visit that Fidel Castro made to Japan in 2002. After meeting both Raúl Castro and Fidel Castro, the Prime Minister announced important economic steps to develop the relationship even more. With this step the Japanese government overcame previous obstacles related to the close relations between Tokyo and Washington.

Between 2006 and 2017, Cuba’s diplomacy reinvigorated its position as one of the leading actors in Third World politics. In September of 2006, Havana was the venue for the XIV Summit of the Non-Aligned Countries. Coming just two months after Fidel Castro’s retirement, it offered his successor, Raúl Castro the opportunity of leading for the first time a major international event. Beginning with that stepe, the new President continued the policy of putting the Global South at the center of Cuba’s international strategy. Because of its activism and initiatives on South-South cooperation, specially on public health, states in the Global South respect and follow Cuban leadership. Doctors and health workers from Cuba are present in all continents from South Africa to the Pacific Islands, including Middle Eastern countries like Qatar. Special mention deserves the construction of very effective relations with governments as diverse as Vietnam, Angola and Iran, just to mention 3 examples from 3 different regions.

6. Conclusions.

Cuban revolutionary diplomacy has been basically an instrument of the country’s anti-hegemonic foreign policy. Anti-hegemonic in two senses: defending itself against the United States and other powers’ attempts to impose changes from the outside; and contributing to Global South resistance to imperialism and neo-colonialism.

Starting from a Marxist Neo-Gramscian conception of world politics,[27] it has been nevertheless surprising how Cuba has used the instruments available in all theoretical perspectives prevalent in international political economy. From a Marxist globalist and Neo-Gramscian perspective, Cuban diplomacy has behaved as revolutionary promoting attitudes that challenge the status quo. This principle, however, has not been adopted by Havana in a dogmatic way, rather, it has adapted when it has been necessary. A successful foreign policy is one that combines principles and interests and, in that sense, Cuban revolutionary diplomacy has passed the test of time.

Probably the major success of Cuban diplomacy has been its capacity to evade the attempts made by Washington to isolate her from the rest of the world. From its beginnings in 1959 Fidel Castro identified the significance — in political, economic and cultural terms — of maintaining an active participation in world diplomacy as an instrument in Cuba’s struggle for an autonomous development.

Notwithstanding its general Marxist approach Cuba has also used other instruments associated with different schools of international relations theory. On many occasions, Havana behaved according to a realist paradigm, searching for alliances with key players of the international system always bearing in mind the political context of the moment.

Concurrently, Cuba has been very active in international institutions, thereby performing as any other state with a neoliberal institutionalist approach to world politics.

Finally, some strands of its diplomacy have been decidedly constructivist in trying to be a norm producer.

In this context, a special mention should be made to Fidel Castro as the strategist and tactician par excellence of Cuban diplomacy. Not only did he lead Cuba in achieving true independence and defending it against all odds, he also designed a foreign policy with a global impact, combining in that way the humanist legacy of José Martí with the internationalist traditions of progressive movements all over the world. That was not only the correct strategy to follow, he was also a master tactician, with a keen understanding of the evolving political context of the last 50–60 years. His figure and his pronouncements were followed by friend and foe alike. Even after his compulsory retirement, his successor, Raúl Castro, was able to lead Cuban diplomacy towards the achievements in its endeavors, for example in promoting y consolidating the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states. Summing up, he was a strategist, a tactical executor and a master who has left permanent domestic and international impacts from which we can derive significate lessons.

The main weakness of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy can probably be found in the economic sphere. Its political decisions have at times created grave economic difficulties for the Cuban population. However, these difficulties have had more to do with American economic sanctions and its own domestic policies.

[1] Presentation at Kanagawa University, Yokohama, Japan, November 2017. This is an pudated version of my ‘Cuban Revolutionary Diplomacy 1959–2009’, in B.J.C. McKercher (editor), Routledge Handbook of Diplomacy and Statecraft, London and New York, Routledge Taylor and Francis Group, 2012, pp. 169–180

[2] Cuban diplomat, academic and writer. Email address:

[3] There is a debate about how to designate the sanctions. Washington favors ‘embargo;’ Havana prefers the term ‘blockade.’ The UNGA resolution accepts the Cuban version.

[4] The concept of national interest is controversial and historically and socially determined. For pre-revolutionary Cuba’s ruling classes, the national interest was linked indissolubly to their subordination to American hegemony.

[5] Louis A. Pérez Jr., Cuba in the American Imagination: Metaphor and Imperial Ethos(Chapel Hill, NC, 2008).

[6] Carlos Alzugaray, ‘Problems of National Security in the Cuban-U.S. Historic Breach’, in Jorge I. Domínguez and Rafael Hernández, U.S.-Cuban Relations in the 1990s (Boulder, CO, 1989), 85–116; & ‘Cuba’s National Security vis-à-vis the United States: Conflict or Cooperation’, in Jorge I. Domínguez, Rafael M. Hernández & Lorena G. Barbería, Debating U.S.-Cuban Relations: How should We Now Play Ball? Revised & Updated Edition, New York & London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, pp. 62–81.

[7] I have used this argument in several of my previous works. The most recent and elaborated version, linking my analysis to IR theory and foreign policy analysis, in ‘Cuba’s External Projection: The Interplay between International Relations Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis’, in Jorge I. Domínguez & Ana Covarrubias (Editors), Routledge Handbook on Latin America in the World, New York & London, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2015, pp. 180–196.

[8] Alejandro de la Fuente, A Nation for All: Race, Inequality and Politics in Twentieth Century Cuba, Chapel Hill, North Carolina University Press, 2001; & Antoni Kapcia, Cuba: Island of Dreams, New

York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[9] José Martí (1843–1895) was a Cuban politician, journalists, poet & essayist who organized the last war of independence against Spain from his self-imposed exile in the United States in 1895. He is considered ‘the apostle of the Cuban nation’. His ideas about the creation of an independent, democratic and socially fair republic have marked Cuban political thought since the second half of the XIX century. Without a doubt, until the advent of Fidel Castro, he was the main source of Cuban nationalism. He was killed in a combat against Spanish troops in 1895.

[10] Aurelio Alonso, El laberinto tras la caída del muro, La Habana, 2006; & Fernando Martínez, El ejercicio de pensar, La Habana, 2008

[11] See my essay on Foreign Minister Raul Roa’s trajectory at the head of the Ministry from 1959 to 1965: “Raúl Roa y la creación de una Cancillería Revolucionaria (1959–1965)’ in Revista de Política Internacional, Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raúl Roa García (ISRI), №4, Julio-Diciembre del 2004.

[12] For the Mafia presence in Cuba, see T.J. English, Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba . . . . And then Lost it to the Revolution, New York, HarperCollins, 2007.

[13] C.S.M. (Celia Sánchez Manduley), Resumen de un Viaje (Textos Taquigráficos de los Discursos que Figuran Insertos), La Habana: Editorial Lex, 1960, pp. 13, 54–55. This is a collection of speeches delivered by Fidel Castro in his visit to the US in April 1959.

[14] Richard Goodwin’s version of his conversation with Ernesto Che Guevara can be found in the Memorandum he wrote for President Kennedy when he returned to Washington: ‘Conversation with Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara of Cuba,’ 22 August 1961: Elier Ramírez has reconstructed the event from Cuban original documents, including public statements by Che Guevera himself. See ‘Ernesto Che Guevara y un singular encuentro’ by Elier Ramírez Cañedo in the Cuban web site Cubadebate:

[15] Carlos Lechuga, En el ojo de la Tormenta: F. Castro, N. Jruschov, J.F. Kennedy y la Crisis de los Misiles, La Habana & North Melbourne, 1995.

[16] There are many sources for the reconstruction of these negotiations, but the best is contained in LeoGrande, William M.. & Peter Kornbluh Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana Chapter 2. ‘Kennedy: The Secret Search for Accommodation’, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle edition.

[17] James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn, and David A. Welch, eds., Cuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse New York, 1993; Jorge I. Domínguez, To Make the World Safe for Revolution: Cuba’s Foreign Policy (Cambridge, MA, 1989), 42; & Lechuga, En el ojo de la Tormenta.

[18] Domínguez, Cuba’s Foreign Policy, 47–49.

[19] A Soviet Russian perspective about the crisis can be found in Sergo Mikoyanm, The Soviet Cuban Misasile Crisis: Castro, Mikoyan, Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Missiles of October (Edited y Svetlana Savranskaya), Washington & Stanford, 2012.

[20] See Kruijt, Dirk, Cuba and Revolutionary Latin America: An Oral History Zed Books. Kindle edition, 2017.

[21] Raúl Castro, ‘El gobierno cubano insta al Presidente Obama a que sea consecuente con su compromiso en la lucha antiterrorista’ (6 October 2010):

[22] Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959–1976,Chapel Hill, NC: 2001.

[23] Carlos Alzugaray, ‘La creación de una Cancillería revolucionaría 1959–1965,’ in Ana Cairo, ed., Raúl Roa: Imaginarios (La Habana, 2008).

[24] Domínguez, Cuba’s Foreign Policy; ídem., La política exterior de Cuba, Madrid, 2009; H. Michael Erisman, Cuba’s International Relations: The Anatomy of a Nationalistic Foreign Policy (Boulder, CO, 1985); Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions.

[25] See Julie M. Feinsilver, Healing the Masses: Cuban Health Politics at Home and Abroad Berkeley, CA: 1993; John M. Kirk, and H. Michael Erisman, Cuban Medical Internationalism: Origins, Evolution, and Goals, London, 2009.

[26] See John M. Kirk and Peter McKenna, Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbor Policy Gainesville, FL: 1997.

[27] See Robert W. Cox, ‘Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method,’ in Louis Amoore, ed., The Global Resistance Reader (Cambridge, UK, 2005), 35–47; Mark Rupert, ‘Globalizing Common Sense: A Marxian-Gramscian (Re)Vision of the Politics of Governance/Resistance,’ Review of International Studies, 29(2003), 181–98.