Cuba’s handpicked president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, plans to travel to New York next month to attend the high-level week of the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Miami Herald has learned.
Cuba currently chairs the G-77 plus China, a group stemming from the U.N. non-alignment movement now including 123 developing nations, which will provide a rallying point for Díaz-Canel at the U.N. General Assembly, according to sources with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to disclose the travel plans.
It is unclear if the Cuban leader has already been granted a visa to travel to New York. “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said. Cuban state media has not yet reported on his travel plans. The Cuban embassy in Washington D.C. did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Díaz-Canel will host a G-77 summit in Havana on Sept. 15 and 16. Shortly after, he will likely travel to New York to participate in the Sustainable Development Goals summit on Sept. 18 and give a speech at the general debate that begins the next day.
According to Francisco Pichon, the U.N. resident coordinator in Cuba, the summit “offers a rallying point for Cuba and the rest of the world to accelerate joint action to reach the targets of the 2030 agenda.”
This would be Díaz-Canel’s second trip to attend the General Assembly, the largest yearly gathering of world leaders. Shortly after being picked as General Raúl Castro’s successor in the presidential office, he participated in the event in 2018, where he told foreign leaders that he would rule to “continue” Fidel Castro’s legacy, a common theme in his speeches. But in other private events with business leaders and Cuban Americans in New York, he has also tried to come across as a much more approachable, younger politician and family man. His press team even released a video of him dancing with his wife and playing music in one gathering.
But five years into his rule, speculation about Díaz-Canel’s potential role as a reformer has been shut down by his role in the crackdown of the largest anti-government protests in decades, his poor management of the economy, and his open support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The relationship with the Biden administration has gone cold after the U.S kept Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, left many of the restrictions imposed by the previous administration in place and imposed new rounds of sanctions on entities and individuals responsible for human rights violations — though not on Díaz-Canel himself. The White House has shown little interest in the kind of opening promoted by former President Barack Obama, though the two countries maintain contacts to address migration, narcotrafficking and other security concerns.
Administration officials have made it clear that there will be little progress in seeking better relations if the Cuban government does not release the hundreds of people imprisoned for protesting and asking for political freedoms in the country.
Ahead of Díaz-Canel‘s planned trip, Cuban diplomats have been trying to send a softer message than the typical tirades against the United States and the embargo.
Though he suggested the insistence on the prisoners’ release was an excuse not to pursue better relations, Cuba’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that “if there were political willingness from the U.S., we could cooperate on many other issues” beyond drug interdictions.
But few Cuba watchers believe Díaz-Canel’s visit would generate much interest among U.S. politicians or companies, and protests against his presence in the United States by Cuban Americans are likely.
The U.S. government is expected to provide foreign leaders and diplomats visas to attend United Nations meetings. Still, on a few occasions, the United States has invoked national security to deny entrance to the country. On that basis, Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott sent a letter to President Joe Biden last year asking him to deny visas to the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to attend the U.N. general assembly. However, none had expressed intentions to participate in person that year.
This story was originally published August 21, 2023, 2:04 PM.