Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs


Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs


Article excerpt

FLETCHER FORUM: Given your experience in Cuba, could you reflect on the United Kingdom's historical relationship with the island, as well as how to look forward in that relationship in light of recent events?

PAUL HARE: Well, in 2002, we did a hundred-year celebration of diplomatic relations. Cuba became independent in 1902: it was one of the last of the Spanish colonies, and Britain actually established an embassy in late 1902. We never broke off relations. The United States did, and so the British actually looked after Canadian interests in Cuba until around 1945.

We were rather unscrupulous because the United States eventually fell out with Fulgencio Batista, the dictator of Cuba, in the 1950s, resulting in an arms embargo. The British saw this as an opportunity to sell arms to Batista, and then those British planes sold were actually used by Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion to repel the invaders. So, the British had a role in stopping the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In terms of the relationship, Cuba was a place of fascination for the Left in Britain and, in fact, many British politicians when I was ambassador - Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, and Tony Benn, who were essentially Communists at universities. They admired Fidel and the Cuban Revolution, and in the 1960s they came to Cuba to cut sugar cane and work on projects. So, we had a political class in the Labour Party that was fairly pro-Fidel. There is currently a Cuba solidarity group in Britain, which the Cuban Embassy promoted, and due to this history the group works a lot with the trade unions.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991, the UK had little trade at all with Cuba. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, we were mostly interested in promoting British business and tourism. The UK is still one of the major sources of tourists to Cuba, after Canada, and now, interestingly, well below the United States because there is a massive flow of Cuban-Americans and others visiting. So, we were quite busy with a lot of business and political visitors, some of whom managed to fit Cuba into their itinerary for reasons best known to themselves, because it's a nice place to visit. So we would always have visitors-either from London or people who were vacationing there-who would ask just to come around, and it was fun. We met all sorts of people you'd never normally meet.

And then we did public diplomacy events. For the hundredth anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2002, we managed to get people like George Martin of the Beatles to visit-Cubans are the world's greatest Beatles fans. We also got Churchill's granddaughter, because Churchill had two spells in Cuba, one in the 1890s and one after the Second World War. We did more modern things, like featuring nanotechnology, and we had a Scottish week, because Havana is twinned with Glasgow in Scotland: we had whiskey tasting and bagpipes. There was significant British business in Cuba as well-Castrol Oil, hotels, shipping, and tobacco, for example. So there was never a shortage of events, because Cuba has this unique allure to people.

FLETCHER FORUM: Did you find that Britain's history of having some sympathetic leftists during the Cuban Revolution was a benefit to you as a diplomat, decades afterward? Did your relationship, for example, have a different foundation than the Cuban relationship with the United States, given that the United States cut off diplomatic relations?

HARE: Yes, that was actually very true. The Castros and the Cubans in the government were very cautious about the relations they had. They didn't want to take on vulnerabilities in terms of foreign investment, and that's still a bit of their mentality towards the West. And, when we were there, George W. Bush was the President for most of the time, and Tony Blair was our Prime Minister at that time. Blair was close to Bush, and, although Blair is Labour Party, Cubans would have been cautious about perhaps getting too close to the UK. …

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