WASHINGTON – Looking ahead to a new American administration, Cuba's top diplomat in Washington opened a campaign Wednesday to generate world pressure to kill a half-century old U.S. trade embargo that he likened to genocide.
"It's equivalent to genocide; its intention is strangulation," Jorge Bolanos said in an Associated Press interview a week before Cuba plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to condemn the U.S. boycott of his country.
Bolanos steered clear of presidential politics, but he said Cuba was ready for talks with the United States "if the U.S. considers Cuba an equal partner in negotiations."
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro without preconditions and would ease restrictions on family-related travel and on money Cuban-Americans want to send to their families in Cuba.
Republican nominee John McCain, meanwhile, has called the offer to meet "the wrong signal," but also has said he favors easing restrictions on Cuba once the United States is "confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made."
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Cuba and lists the country as a state sponsor of terror. The trade embargo, imposed in 1962, has been tightened during President Bush's two terms.
"The last eight years have seen the most ruthless and inhumane application of the blockade," Bolanos said.
It "typifies the act of genocide" and from the start was designed to undermine the Cuban revolution of 1959 led by Fidel Castro, the diplomat said. Forced to retire because of intestinal illnesses, Fidel yielded control of the government to his brother, Raul.
"He is better and better every day," Bolanos said. "He is writing." But Bolanos said he did not know if Fidel Castro, now 82, would be able to participate in the half-century anniversary celebration of the revolution in Santiago at the end of the year.
Bolanos, who heads Cuba's "interest section" in Washington out of the embassy of Switzerland, said he had "no doubt the blockade is going to disappear" at some point.
Next Wednesday, the U.N. General Assembly will consider a resolution calling on the United States to end the trade embargo. Every year for the past 17 years, the Assembly has approved Cuba's resolution, but the United States has not yielded.
"It is the most isolated issue at the U.N.," Bolanos said, and the U.N. has "a psychological and moral effect."
The diplomat, a former ambassador to Mexico, Brazil and Britain, predicted the embargo, in time, will "disappear."
Representing a government the United States shuns, Bolanos said he is limited in his travels to the Washington area and is permitted among government offices only to visit the State Department, where he said he has had occasional meetings.
However, he said, the diplomatic community has treated him as "an ambassador in full capacity."
Again and again, in a 50-minute interview conducted mostly in English, Bolanos returned to the U.S. embargo and its impact.
He said a few sick Cuban children have been unable to receive proper medical treatment because the United States would not approve the export of catheters. Some material for the blind also is under boycott, and Cuba was unable to purchase washing machines from Mexico because they had parts manufactured in the United States, he said.
"Eleven million Cubans live under the blockade's effects," he said. "Each day, each of them, child, woman, man, elder of whatever social position or religion, suffers without distinction, the perverse effects of the blockade."
The cost to Cuba has risen to $93 billion, but the blockade has failed to undermine the Cuban government "because of the irrevocable will of the Cuban nation to defend its legitimate right to self-determination," the ambassador said.