Cuba’s President Raul Castro (C) stands as Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by the nom de guerre Timochenko, shake hands in Havana, September 23, 2015.

Sandy Marks | September 26, 2015

This week, Raúl Castro, President of both the Cuban Council of State and Council of Ministers, Cuba’s highest executive officer, makes his first visit to the United States, arriving in New York City where he will address the United Nations. This visit follows his unprecedented and historic handshake, then phone call, with U.S. President Barack Obama; the successful release by the U.S. government of the remaining three of the Cuban Five Heroes; the easing of relations between the two countries and the establishment of diplomatic relations and an embassy in Washington; and the just executed, fabulously successful hosting of the Pope where millions of Cubans warmly welcomed the Pontiff.

This is also the first time a Cuban President has addressed the United Nations since Fidel Castro relinquished the post for health reasons. Fidel’s speeches to the United Nations were major world historical events ― his appearance in 1960, decamping to the Hotel Teresa in Harlem where he met with the Soviet premier, Khrushchev, President Nasser of Egypt and Malcolm X among others (still acknowledged as an historic site on bus tours in the City); his address in 1980, speaking to the plight of the developing nations and their gargantuan debt to the IMF and World Bank; also at the UN in 1995 and for the Millennium in 2000.

Raúl’s speech is equally a major world historic event. He will be speaking at what the United Nations refers to as its General Debate, the opening of the 70th anniversary session of the U.N. General Assembly, along with U.S. President Obama, Chinese President Xi Jin Ping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Rouhani, Brazilian President Dilma Roussef and Egyptian President Abd El Sisi and ― before the “General Debate” begins ― Pope Francis, who helped bring about the U.S.-Cuban diplomatic reopening. In all, it promises to be an historic week.

Raúl has always held responsible positions and has provided leadership in the Cuban struggle throughout his life. He commanded a column in the Cuban revolutionary war and was Defense Minister from 1959 until 2008 in which role he was responsible for the successful defense of Cuba during the U.S.-inspired and backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the defeat by Cuban and Angolan troops at Cuito Canavale in 1988, of the South African army in its invasion of Angola, an event that not only secured the independence of Angola, but helped bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa itself. Raúl served as Deputy Prime Minister from 1962 to 1972, when he assumed the role of First Deputy Prime Minister. He has been instrumental in instituting representative government in Cuba since 1974, when he oversaw the first pilot program in Matanzas Province.

Raúl succeeded Fidel as President not because he was Fidel’s brother, but because, of the several vice presidents, Raúl had the most authority, the most experience and the most ability to fill the role. Throughout his life, not only has he been an accomplished military organizer and politician but he has also been an educator and a trainer.

Since assuming his current role, Raúl has instituted major economic reforms, including a large-scale changeover from state employment to private sector employment and an agreement with Russia to retire 90% of Cuba’s $90 billion debt and for Russia to invest the remaining 10% in Cuba. For three years, Raúl sponsored the peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC which, on September 24, 2015, resulted in an agreement to secure a final peace settlement within the next six months, ending a 51 year war. He has begun to negotiate a detente with the United States (although the greatest obstacles, the economic blockade of Cuba and the continued occupation of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, remain in place). He has also continued Cuba’s signal programs, such as sending thousands of doctors around the world where they are most needed. He brings to the UN the hopes and dreams of the majority of the world’s population.

It is only right that the world expectantly and hopefully waits to hear what Raúl has to say in his own right, as a foremost international leader. Viva Raúl! Viva Cuba! Viva the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations! and Viva “the handshake!” and many more hands reaching out across the water with understanding, not hostility.

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