“We Feel the U.S. Blockade is Coming to An End,” Says Cuban Ambassador

Tuan Minh

07:00 10/02/2016

BizLIVE - Cuban Ambassador to Vietnam Herminio López Díaz commented on the special relationship between Cuba and Vietnam, and the importance of Tet in Vietnamese people's life.

“We Feel the U.S. Blockade is Coming to An End,” Says Cuban Ambassador

Cuban Ambassador to Vietnam Herminio López Díaz. (Photo: Viet Khoi/BizLIVE)

Your Excellency Mr. Ambassador, Vietnam and Cuba have special bonds which are treasured by leaders and people of both countries. Could you highlight the most relevant events of the Cuba-Vietnam relationship during 2015 and expectations for 2016?
Vietnam and Cuba enjoy a very special relationship, and have a long history of solidarity and friendship.  
Last year we celebrated the 55th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. We held a wide array of events in Vietnam and Cuba to commemorate this milestone.  
Among the outstanding activities, I want to mention the official visit of Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang to Havana in September 2015. During his stay, he and our President Raul Castro Ruz had frank and fruitful conversations. He also met with other Cuban leaders and toured a number of places, including some rice fields where Vietnam is aiding Cuba in the production of the grain.
Within its framework, a business forum was held which drew the participation of large corporations of the two countries.
The visit of President Truong Tan Sang adds to the frequent exchange of high-ranking visits of our highest leaders. It contributed to strengthening our mutual trust and enriching the high quality of our political dialogue.
Another important event was the 33rd session of the Intergovernmental Commission that took place in Hanoi last November. The commission was co-chaired by Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca.
The minister met with several Vietnam government representatives including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the ministers of Construction, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Public Health.
During the visit of the minister, we held in Ho Chi Minh City a seminar on investment opportunities.  
We think the bilateral relationship has gained a new momentum and conditions are mature for further development of our relationship in the areas of economic cooperation and trade.
Notable, Hanoi was the venue for the 7th Regional Solidarity Meeting between other countries and Cuba, which was organized by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations.
The event drove the participation of representatives from all the countries in the Asia-Pacific region that have solidarity bonds with Cuba and especially of a number of Vietnamese leaders such as Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, vice chairwoman of the National Assembly and president of the Vietnam-Cuba Friendship Association.
I also want to mention the participation of a delegation of the Cuba Chamber of Commerce which comprised of 22 Cuban companies in Vietnam Expo in April.
Looking ahead for 2016, we see the continuity of the high level political exchanges and we hope to have some high-ranking visits in both ways.
We expect to witness an increase of Vietnamese companies exploring business opportunities in Cuba and the materialization of several projects that will take off this year.
The Embassy of Cuba in Vietnam is willing to do everything we can to support those Vietnamese companies.  
In which economic fields do the two governments plan to boost cooperation in the years to come?
There are many fields in which we can ramp up cooperation and we are ready to support any Vietnamese company that has some specific proposal, and open to consider it even though it is not included in the portfolio of business opportunities.
The portfolio that Cuba has released is quite wide, covering many sectors. We are interested in sectors like renewable energy, agriculture, construction, building materials.
Foreign companies have many chances to build hotels, resorts and golf courses in Cuba, thus the tourism industry in Cuba is very promising for Vietnamese companies.  
Cuba has some advantages in the area of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. There are already some cooperation projects between Cuban and Vietnamese companies. Those areas can be opened for investment and cooperation.
BioCubaFarma, the leading Cuban pharmaceutical corporation, has not set up a representative office in Vietnam, but it has come here through intergovernmental commission meetings and some of its member companies visit here regularly.
Vietnamese companies including energy company PetroVietnam and leading manufacturer of building materials Viglacera have increasing interest in business opportunities in Cuba.
Hanel is negotiating to build a hotel in Cuba while Tin Thanh Corp. is presenting projects in the fields of renewable energy and agriculture, and Thai Binh Co. in the production of some consumer goods.    
I believe that we will see a growing number of Vietnamese companies seeking investment opportunities in Cuba.
As Cuba is calling for investment from Vietnam, what investment opportunities can Vietnamese enterprises find in the Mariel Special Development Zone? Which special treatments is the Cuban government offering to foreign investors who invest in the zone?
The new investment law that we adopted in 2014 stipulates some special treatments, including tax exemptions for foreign investors. This tax regime is more flexible inside the Mariel Zone, with some taxes being exempted and others being more favorable for investors.
However, when calling for investment, we also require the companies to show their financial, technological capacities and know-how needed for the investment. In some cases, Vietnamese companies may have to go through a process of tender like any other firms.
In the opening up process, we want to diversify our links, meaning that we cannot depend on one big partner or a small group of partners.
Taking into account the special relationship with Vietnam, we might be open to concede specific treatment to Vietnamese companies seeking to invest in Cuba.
We consider Vietnam a very reliable partner in this process because of our special relationship and the potential that Vietnam has in the coming years to become one of the most important economies in Southeast Asia.
How do impacts of the U.S. blockade imposed on Cuba impede the relations between Cuba with Vietnam and other nations?
Fortunately in the case of Vietnam, we dare to say that there is no such a visible impact of that blockade up to now, because we have a special relationship and we have been trading with each other for many years.
One of the most important obstacles this blockade has set is that many companies which have strong ties with the U.S. feel cautious about having a deep relationship with Cuba. I don’t think Vietnam is among these countries, but it has been the case for many companies from Europe, Latin America and Asian countries like Japan.
According to the regulations of the blockade, some companies might be punished by the U.S. government if they have some kind of relationship with Cuba. Therefore, they may be afraid of being punished or suffering retaliation from the U.S. government.
We also have problems with financial transactions. For example, if some Vietnamese company needs to pay money to a Cuban counterpart, they cannot use the U.S. dollar for the transaction because it could be confiscated by the U.S. government.
Looking at developments of recent events, one thing we can feel is that the end of this blockade is nearing. We don’t know when it is going to be lifted, but it’s just a matter of time.
Many firms from all over the world are looking to invest in Cuba. Thus I think Vietnamese companies should look into the opportunities that the Cuban environment is creating and move faster to seize these opportunities.
  Cuban Ambassador to Vietnam Herminio López Díaz. (Photo: Viet Khoi/BizLIVE)
As long as I know, you have lived the Tet Holiday atmosphere in Vietnam twice. Could you share your impressions of the Tet in particular and Vietnam in general? Which Vietnamese traditions have amused you the most?
This is going to be my third Tet in Vietnam. In the previous two Tets, my family stayed in Hanoi, and we visited some Vietnamese friends and received them during Tet. We enjoyed and exchange typical dishes of the two cultures.
I think that the Tet celebration reflects deeply the characters of the Vietnamese people. The way that Vietnamese people attach value first to the family links and the way they treasure the relationship with friends during Tet is very special.
The tradition of gathering with the family, visiting friends and paying tribute to ancestors is very beautiful. These strong family and friendship bonds are reinforced during Tet.
For us, being here in Vietnam during Tet is like being part of this big family. We look forward to enjoying this time again.
We have tried Vietnamese traditional dishes for Tet and enjoyed them very much. These dishes have deep meaning for the Vietnamese people, for example the way the whole family gathers together to cook banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) is unique.  
It’s very important to preserve for the future these traditions of paying tribute to the elders and the ancestors. They reflect strong family links in the Vietnamese society and help build up national unity.
What message would you like to convey to the Vietnamese people in general and the BizLIVE newspaper on the occasion of New Year 2016?
I want to take this opportunity to convey my warmest wishes for the Vietnamese people on the occasion of Lunar New Year. As Cubans in Vietnam, we feel like in our own home. We feel that we are sharing this festivity with our own family.
We want to wish all the Vietnamese friends, brothers and sisters good health, success and happiness for themselves and their families.
We want to thank BizLIVE for this opportunity to address the Vietnamese people and congratulate you for the successes you have made.
Through the newspaper, we also want to reach the Vietnamese business community and encourage them to look after opportunities that our bilateral relationship offers and Cuba is opening now.
Thank you very much!

Trade between Vietnam and Cuba reached $274 million in 2011, $175 million in 2012,  $200 million in 2014 and $235 million in 2015, of which Vietnam's imports from Cuba hovered between $1 million and $7 million per year. 

Vietnam ships around 300,000 tons of rice to Cuba annually.