UNITED NATIONS (CN) — Voicing outrage at the breakdown of bilateral relations Friday as the United Nations General Assembly concluded its first week of debate, America’s former Cold War enemy offered the most biting critique of President Donald Trump.
“We remind him that the United States, where flagrant human rights violations are committed, which raise deep concern among the international community, has no moral authority to judge my country,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said Friday of Trump. “We reaffirm that Cuba will never accept any preconditions or impositions, nor will it ever renounce any of its principles.”
Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea sparked audible gasps across the General Assembly on Tuesday, but most world leaders mumbled mostly muted criticism after for fear of distracting from the threat posed by Kim Jong Un.
Cuba, on the other hand, voiced unequivocal outrage at what Parrilla called Trump’s “disrespectful, offensive and interventionist” speech.
“We reject the threat to ‘totally destroy’ the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the home to 25 million human beings,” Rodriguez Parrilla said. “War is not an option in the Korean peninsula; it would threaten the existence of hundreds of millions of persons in this area as well as in neighboring countries; it would lead to a nuclear war of unpredictable consequences.”
The bitter address stood in sharp contrast to the speech Rodriguez Parrilla delivered last year amid signs that U.S.-Cuban relations had been headed toward a warmer and more peaceful era.
Wrapping up years of normalization that increased trade between the two nations and eased travel restrictions that facilitated cultural encounters, then-President Barack Obama paid his historic visit to Cuba’s capital, Havana, in 2016.
After rolling back some of that progress in June, Trump unloaded on the communist archipelago on the world stage, labeling it a “corrupt and destabilizing regime” before the assembly.
“From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure,” Trump said on Tuesday. “Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”
Rodriguez Parrilla responded in kind: The same Cuban minister who last year called for more “respectful dialogue” with the United States devoted the bulk of his speech today to denouncing his northern neighbor’s inequality and imperialism.
“On Tuesday last, President Donald Trump came here to convince us that one of his purposes is to promote the prosperity of nations and persons,” he said. “But, in the real world, the wealth owned by eight men altogether is equivalent to the wealth shared by 3.6 billion human beings, who make up the poorest half of humanity.”
Rattling off a string of statistics, Rodriguez Parrilla noted 69 out of the 100 largest entities in the world are transnational corporations rather than states, and the 10 largest have more money than the public revenues of 180 nations.
Denouncing Trump’s “exclusive and xenophobic” policies like his proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexican border, Rodriguez Parrilla also attacked the 45th president’s philosophy of the United Nations as a gathering of “patriots” pursuing their separate interests.
“The ‘patriotism’ invoked in the U.S. statement is a perversion of humanism, the love and loyalty to the homeland and of the enrichment and defense of national and universal culture,” he said. “It embodies an exceptionalist and supremacist vision of ignorant intolerance in the face of diverse political, economic, social and cultural models.”
Rodriguez Parrilla, whose country has a one-party system, needled Trump about the “loss of legitimacy of political systems” that the minister saw behind the U.S. president’s rise.
“Corruption, whether legal or illegal, has turned into metastasis,” the minister said. “So is the extreme case of the so called ‘special interests’ or corporate payments in exchange for benefits in the country that spends the highest amount of money in electoral campaigns and where, paradoxically, a candidate with the lowest number of popular votes can be elected or entitled to govern with a negligible support by voters.”
Last year, Rodriguez Parrilla voiced only perfunctory complaints about the United States, on the subjects of the embargo and “illegally occupied” naval base in Guantanamo.
Those grievances remained today — together with blame for putting the future habitability of the planet at risk through climate change.
“The production and consumption patterns proper of neoliberal capitalism are unsustainable and irrational and will inexorably lead to the destruction of the environment and the end of the human species,” Rodriguez Parrilla said.
The Cuban minister spoke about this topic earlier this week at a high-level meeting on Hurricane Irma, which killed 10 people in his country and forced 1.7 million others to evacuate.
“Drain the Swamp” of Debt
Among the Caribbean nations, none has suffered more than Barbuda, whose entire population had to move to its sister island Antigua in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
On Thursday, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s speech before the assembly circled around three themes: the deadly storm, the climate change that strengthened it, and the crushing debt that complicated its recovery.
“For the first time in over 300 years, there is now no permanent resident on Barbuda,” he told the assembly. “The footprints of an entire civilization have been emasculated by the brutality and magnitude of Irma.”
Browne told the assembly that Irma’s strength was no coincidence.
“Whatever position on climate change any nation takes, the evidence of global warming is now irrefutably stronger,” the prime minister said.
“Two Category 5 hurricanes within 12 days, that unrelentingly pounded so many countries, can no longer be dismissed as ‘the vagaries of the weather,’ nor can they be explained as ‘nature’s doing,’” he added. “Hurricanes are stronger and bigger because they are absorbing moisture from increasingly warmer seas, caused by global warming.”
Trump, who has denied climate change, has vowed to pull out of the Paris agreement once the accord allows the United States to exit, a decision that Browne obliquely criticized during his address.
“All 14 Caribbean community countries together produce less than 0.1 per cent of global emissions,” the prime minister said. “We are the least of the polluters, but the largest of the casualties.”
Echoing Trump’s one-time campaign slogan, Browne called for the International Monetary Fund to expunge a $130 million debt forcing his country to deal with two crises at once.
“It is time that this particular swamp be drained,” he said.
As it stands, Browne said, his nation will have enough trouble rebuilding one of its two islands from the rubble.
“Preliminary estimates have placed the cost of rebuilding Barbuda at about U.S. $250 million,” he said.
“That figure, Mr. [General Assembly] President [Miroslav Lajcak], represents 15 percent or more, of my country’s Gross Domestic Product of approximately $1.5 billion,” he said.
The United States insists that it has helped the storm-battered island recover with assistance.
At a high-level meeting on Monday, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative Michele Sison boasted of the $1.2 million in aid the country is providing.
“We are working in close coordination with local officials on the ground in hard-hit St. Martin, Antigua and Barbuda, and The Bahamas to support response efforts,” Sison said at the time. “For example, with USAID support, the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross is distributing locally-purchased hygiene kits.”
But Browne noted that figure pales in comparison to the Antigua and Barduda’s outstanding debt, mostly consisting of accrued interest.
The prime minister said that the United States has avoided its own debt to Antigua and Barbuda from the World Trade Organization, whose arbitrator ruled in favor of his country in a dispute over online gambling in 2004.
After U.S. authorities began restricting online gambling, the WTO determined that the crackdown violated trade agreements at a loss of $21 million a year.
“Our government has labored unsuccessfully for over 13 years to reach an amicable and reasonable settlement with the U.S.,” Browne said on Thursday. “This is a classic case, where might is right and where the rights of a small powerless state has been trampled upon.”
The prime minister said that his country’s treatment stands in stark contrast to a theme of Trump’s stated opposition to any “one-sided deal.”
“His observation, which I welcome, is equally true for the relationship with Antigua and Barbuda,” Browne said.
Antigua and Barbuda has received assistance from many of the nations Trump vilified, and Browne expressed particular gratitude toward Venezuela, which he said went “beyond the call of duty to assist.”