Gonzalez said he is thankful for Qatar’s support, especially in rejecting the US-imposed sanctions that have hindered Cuba’s economic progress for decades.
Humanity, culture and respect are among the solid foundations between Qatar and Cuba’s decades-long ties, Havana’s outgoing envoy Oscar Leon Gonzalez told Doha News on Sunday.
“This is the real source of our bilateral relation, this relation, the human relation among the people. And this is in my view, the most valuable in our bilateral relation,” Gonzalez told Doha News in a sit-down interview.
Gonzalez is bidding farewell to Qatar after serving as his country’s envoy to the Gulf state since 2021. Last week, he met with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Amiri Diwan as his tenure comes to an end.
Looking back at his two years in Qatar, Gonzalez described it as “very instructive”, in which he was introduced to a completely new culture.
“Personally, the experience of being in Qatar has been very beautiful, I grew culturally as well, because I have been exposed to Qatari culture, to Qatari tradition, and I tasted Qatari dishes,” he said.
From being welcomed into Qatari households to trying traditional dishes such as machboos for the very first time, Gonzalez could not help but travel back in time to his favourite “unique” moment in the country—the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“I was very lucky to be here during the FIFA World Cup last year. For me, it was the best ever organised FIFA World Cup and this only was possible because of this wise leadership from this country from His Highness Sheikh Tamim,” the ambassador said.
Gonzalez recounted of the places he will miss the most in Doha which had become part of his life over the last two years, including the popular Souq Waqif, Katara Cultural Village and the Dukhan Beach, which he said he frequently visited.
“What I will miss most is my Qatari friends. I’m leaving a country that opened its arms to me and created the most excellent environment I could expect. What I will keep most is the relationship I cultivated here with Qatari friends,” the outgoing envoy said.
Shared principles and values
When asked on the commonalities between Qatar and Cuba, Gonzalez placed great emphasis on their shared principles and values.
“The relationship between Cuba and Qatar is very high and is based on a very solid background, because we share principles, like the respect of our independence, we share solidarity, promotion of cooperation with other countries. We defend peace, we share the same view that all the problems in our world should be addressed through more dialogue,” he said.
Gonzalez added that Qatar and Cuba both value unity, saying the people of both countries are “familial”.
“We defend the family, we defend the united family,” Gonzalez explained.
The outgoing ambassador further expressed his admiration for Qatar’s preservation of its culture, which it balanced with modern developments as well as the Arabic language. He added that he hopes to witness more cultural cooperation between the two nations.
Qatar and Cuba’s strong bond has also been illustrated in Katara cultural village by Cuban artist Maisel López, where two children of both countries are pictured playing with a football. Titled “Cuban and Qatari Friends”, the artwork was dedicated to the World Cup.
“I am very happy to know that this mural became viral on social media and nowadays is an iconic example of our very friendly bilateral relations,” Gonzalez said.
Strong bilateral relations
Gonzalez noted the strong relations between the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro, recalling Sheikh Hamad’s attendance of the former leader’s funeral in Cuba in 2016.
Sheikh Tamim had also paid a “landmark visit” to Havana in 2015, during which the two countries signed numerous bilateral agreements. Gonzalez said the agreements helped achieve further growth in ties.
“I think His Highness’ visit at the time boosted our bilateral relations. That visit helped a lot to move the relations to the stage we are at now,” the envoy stated.
Among the most important collaborations between Qatar and Cuba is in the health sector, heightened particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2012, Doha and Havana officially inaugurated the Cuban Hospital in Dukhan, staffed with more than 400 medical professionals from across the country.
“Our diplomatic relations started in 1989, since that moment until now it has evolved with different corporations […] the leading example of this cooperation is in the health sector, which is well known,” Gonzalez said.
At the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, Cuba dispatched doctors to Qatar alongside 20 other countries.
“I had the honour to be the witness of what Cuban medics and doctors are doing here in Qatar. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to share these two years and months with the Cuban people who are the real ambassadors here,” Gonzalez said.
Notably, Cuba is known for its top healthcare and skilled doctors, with a ratio of 8.2 physicians per 1,000 people. The Latin American country makes around $11 billion each year from sending some of its doctors to foreign countries.
In addition to health, the former ambassador also sees potential in further cooperation in the sports and trade sectors.
“We would like to see Qatari businessmen and business women and Qatari institutions in our development in Cuba through investments, more cooperation. I think we are on the way to achieve that,” he said.
Cuban struggle under US embargo
For more than 60 years, Cuba has been under an economic embargo by the United States which was imposed by President John F. Kennedy in February 1962.
Slammed by Havana as “cruel and immoral”, the embargo challenged the country’s economy, especially under the Donald Trump administration which had tightened the sanctions.
The United Nations General Assembly voted against the blockade 29 times. In November last year, Qatar was among 185 countries that voted in favour of a resolution calling for the end of the economic blockade on Cuba.
The report of the Secretary-General on the resolution in January last year noted that Qatar’s position on the matter is unchanged, with the Gulf state consistently urging “against the imposition of any unilateral coercive measures.”
Gonzalez said that he is thankful for Qatar’s support, especially in rejecting the policy that has hindered Cuba’s economic progress for decades.
“Qatar is among hundreds of countries that reject this policy against Cuba, the blockade is the main obstacle for our development. So we think the Qatari support is a friendly action, but is a just action, because we share the same principles,” Gonzalez said.
Between 15-to-16 September this year, Cuba is hosting the “Summit of Heads of State and Government of G-77+China on the Current Development Challenges: the Role of Science, Technology and Innovation.”
The outgoing ambassador hopes that Qatar’s amir will join leaders at the upcoming event, which Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said is a chance to “decide on collective and practical actions to effectively face contemporary challenges.”
Commenting on the future of Qatar and Cuba’s ties during his last days in service, Gonzalez said that they both “have a plan for sustainable development” in the coming years.
“We have a plan for sustainable development until 2030 and we welcome all countries that wish to do so and are capable of doing so to invest in Cuba. We see potentialities in this regard for Qatari businessmen or business women,” the departing ambassador noted.