Cuba and Iran have sat down together to await the result of the American elections. Just this weekend both countries held several diplomatic meetings to strengthen their alliance. Firstly, the foreign ministers of Cuba and Iran reaffirmed their bilateral ties in Havana and denounced the sanctions imposed on both by the United States.
The President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, spoke to the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, about the various opportunities for cooperation in the scientific-technical and health sectors between the two countries. This is one of the first visits by a high-level foreign dignitary to the Caribbean capital after the COVID-19 pandemic paralysed life in the country for almost six months.
According to official Cuban government sources, in a "cordial atmosphere", Díaz-Canel and Zarif discussed various "ways to continue developing economic, commercial and cooperation links". The state newspaper Granma also mentioned the debate they had about finding opportunities for joint work in the scientific-technical sphere and health.
Despite the fact that the administration of Donald Trump's government has tightened sanctions on both countries, historically the United States has had a relationship of enmity with Cuba and Iran, so both countries have been forced to strengthen their ties in order to create political, commercial and technological links.
"We are together in these difficult times", Zarif told his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, at the start of the talks that were held behind closed doors. Zarif accused the US government of practising "economic terrorism" against Iran and Cuba. Both nations, together with Venezuela, suffered a tightening of Washington's financial and trade sanctions during the Trump era.
With the announcement of Democrat Joe Biden's victory at the White House, both countries have sent their official messages of congratulations and a small glimmer of hope that this line of sanctions and harsh policies may change.
On Sunday, the Iranian President, Hasan Rohaní, called on the next US administration to "compensate for the mistakes made by Trump", alluding to the United States' withdrawal from the nuclear pact and the imposition of tougher sanctions.
Rohaní also said on the Iranian Presidency's website that "the time has come for Washington, while respecting global rules, to return to the path of compliance with international obligations".
For his part, the Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel sent a message on Twitter this Sunday acknowledging that "in their presidential elections, the people of the United States have chosen a new direction". Díaz-Canel said that Cuba believes "in the possibility of a constructive bilateral relationship that respects differences".
In the case of Cuba, the strengthening of the embargo imposed by Washington for six decades and the suspension of tourism owing to the coronavirus pandemic have deepened the already serious economic crisis the country is experiencing.
According to Amnesty International, "for almost half a century the United States has unilaterally imposed an economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba. The severity and scope of the sanctions have varied, depending on political developments in Cuba, in the United States and in the rest of the world," the NGO explains in a statement.
The United States imposed the first economic sanctions on Cuba in 1960, completely halting sugar cane imports from this country. That sanction was a response to Cuba's nationalisation of foreign goods and companies, mostly owned by US citizens.
Since then, the US government has increased the scope of the sanctions against Cuba. The initial trade embargo has been expanded into a set of economic, financial and trade sanctions based primarily on six laws.
Among the most serious regulations imposed on Cuba are the "Trading with the Enemy Act", the "Cuban Assets Control Regulations" (1963) and the "Democracy in Cuba Act" (1992), also known as the Torricelli Act. The last law issued against the island nation was in 2000 with the "Law of Trade Sanctions and Increase of Trade".
With regard to Iran, the US has been imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic since 1979. In the 1980s the United States issued Law 12170, which ordered the freezing of some $12 billion in Iranian assets, including bank deposits, gold and other property, and a trade embargo.
Sanctions were increased throughout history following accusations by several American presidents of contact with and financing of terrorist groups. This led to 2006, when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 16963 and imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic after it refused to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.
These sanctions were lifted at the end of this year, 2020, thanks to the Nuclear Pact signed in 2015, but the United States departed from the pact in 2018, a decision taken by Donald Trump. The outgoing president has encouraged the Council countries to maintain and strengthen the measures, but has not managed to convince them with his message. In retaliation, the United States announced that it would sanction anyone who had relations with Iran, creating many tensions and problems within the European Union and the rest of the Latin American countries.
The Cuban foreign minister thanked his Iranian counterpart for the position the Islamic Republic maintains against the US embargo on Cuba. Both foreign ministers stressed that their meeting will serve to strengthen the bilateral alliance in various areas, from the economy to health and science.
Cuba and Iran maintain a close bilateral relationship in several areas, including twelve agreements in force for the exemption of diplomatic and service visas. In addition, at the beginning of last year the authorities of both countries agreed in Havana to increase economic, scientific and technical cooperation.
The President of Iran, Hassan Rohani, visited the Caribbean country in 2016, and in September 2018 met again with Miguel Díaz-Canel on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in this case to evaluate proposals for collaboration in the field of health.
Throughout this year Iran has supplied Venezuela with fuel, a resource that is scarce in Cuba due to the economic crisis and US sanctions. It is not known, however, whether the island receives or will receive Iranian oil.
Both countries are now waiting to see how Trump's mandate ends and what Biden's baton for the United States' foreign relations is. Both hope that the multilateralism and economic opening they are so keen to see will be re-established, and Biden will have to think about which direction to take: maintaining sanctions or giving way to a new international reality.