Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A remarkable diplomat says goodbye to The Hague

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

H.E. Ms. Zelmys María Domínguez Cortina, by John Dunkelgrün, Diplomat Magazine editor.

 

After almost exactly four years, Ambassador Dominguez is about to return to Cuba. She will be missed by her colleagues and the many people from all circles in The Netherlands with whom she had frequent and fruitful meetings. While in the middle of packing and struggling with the transition of almost the entire Cuban staff of the Embassy, she found time for a closing interview. She received me in the hall of the embassy, which is adorned by the Cuban flag and portraits of Cuba’s two great heroes, José Marti and Antonio Maceo, symbolic of the fight for the independence of Cuba.

DM
Would you give us an impression of your background and career?

ZMD
I studied for five years at our Higher Institute for International Relations, then spent two years in the Ministry of Finance. In 1984 I went to the Center of African and Middle Eastern Studies, where I worked for 16 years. While there I had the opportunity to do a Masters in Asian and African studies at El Colegio de México and a Masters in Contemporary History at the University of Havana. In 1998 I was a visiting professor of Latin American and Spanish literature in Cairo. Then in 200 I  joined the Ministry of foreign affairs at the division of Europe and  in 2003 I was appointed as  Counselor, Deputy Head of Mission  in London until 2007 , and later as Ambassador in  The Hague in 2010. Here I am Ambassador as well as Permanent Representative to the OPCW and I deal with other international organizations based in the Netherlands.

DM
Did you choose The Hague or did they just appoint you?

ZMD
No, our Foreign Office just appoints you. They take account of you personal situation, your experience and languages and then they just put you where they think best.

MD
You are deeply involved in the OPCW. Are there any other international organizations here that have your specific interest?

ZMD
Besides the extensive bilateral work, we have to promote the image of Cuba and to work with the people and organizations that promote solidarity with Cuba. Because of the American blockade to Cuba, there are people all over the world who help us, politically and materially, sending humanitarian aid for example. Also the bilateral situation with The Netherlands has greatly improved, since Mr. Timmermans became foreign minister. He went to Cuba in January this year and we agreed on several avenues of cooperation. He also awakened interest in Latin America in the Parliament.
Apart from that we are mainly interested in the OPCW, because we are against all weapons of mass destruction. One reason is that the US blockade is in violation of article 11 of the OPCW, about the free exchange of information and equipment for purposes not prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention. We are very active in the Non Aligned Movement at OPCW. We are also active in the CFC (The Common Fund for Commodities), that helps countries that produce basic products. We are members of several other organizations like the ICJ and the ICA, where we are not so active. We are not members of the ICC.SONY DSC

MD
What can The Netherlands learn from Cuba?

ZMD
We can learn a lot from each other. We can learn a lot about agriculture and water management and about the wind-power industry, but you can learn a lot of our system of primary healthcare. A lot of Dutch doctors who visited Cuba and were really surprised by our primary health services. We now have a special agreement between Leiden University and our University of Medical science of Havana to exchange Dutch students and professors. We also have success in biotechnology and new medicines and vaccines, especially for diabetes, meningitis, hepatitis and cancer. This can also be useful to The Netherlands, so we have a lot of things to do together.

MD
At the end of your tour here, what achievement are you most proud of?

ZMD
I think the main achievement was to improve the image of Cuba. I was lucky in that the bilateral relation with Cuba changed for the good and that we have been able to bring our relationship with the Dutch government to another level. Personally I like the Dutch. It is easy to deal with the Dutch. They are flexible enough for negotiation and direct and transparent enough to say what they want. It is easy to deal with such people, because they’ll never promise something they are not going to do. Here, unlike other places, you know what you can do or not do.

MD
There have been major changes in Cuba recently. How has that changed the Cuban society?

ZMD
From the beginning our Revolution meant change. You don’t change, you die and we have survived for 50+ years. We have been updating our social and economic model. We want to keep the achievements of our socialist project while becoming more efficient in other areas like some parts of our economy. This we discussed deeply with our population. Many lines of possible changes were discussed all over Cuba. People added, modified, deleted and we ended with more than 300 possible changes that were discussed in parliament. These have started to be applied. They gave the people more opportunities in areas like services, which can now be offered by private persons. We even export services, especially medical services. We carefully allow foreign investment, and have a new labor law to protect the workers in the new private sector. This helps us survive and be more integrated with the international community and to improve the lives of our people. We are so integrated in the world that we have more embassies than The Netherlands.

MD
Your revolution happened during the cold war. At that time the US was paranoid about anything socialist or communist (ZMD, chuckling, “still, still!”). Now the cold war is over, Cuba doesn’t pose a threat any more, but the US remains adamant in its attitude. Why?

ZMD
Cuba is not a matter of foreign policy for the US, it is domestic policy. This is because of the Cuban lobbies, in particular in Florida. They are powerful in Congress and in the Senate. They want to solve the so called Cuba problem with a hard hand. There is another tendency that says that the hard hand hasn’t worked for 50 years, to use soft power, eliminate the blockade, penetrate the economy, have US presence there. Then things will change. For 50 years these two trends have been alternating, without solution.

MD
Anything else you’d like to say to the readers of Diplomatic Magazine?

ZMD
I want to thank Diplomatic Magazine and its volunteers for the great job of helping to integrate the diplomatic community to The Netherlands. It gives us an opportunity to explain about our countries, which is not always possible through the Dutch press.

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