On February 19, 2016, the International School Network visited the Embassy of Cuba in Tokyo to interview the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Marcos Rodríguez.
H.E. Mr. Rodriguez warmly welcomed us with an introduction of his country. he explained the beautiful geography that shapes the country. As Cuba is an archipelago located in the northern Caribbean Sea with it being south of the Tropic of Cancer, the climate between the winter and summer are both very warm, exceeding 20°C all year around. Cuba highly depends upon the agricultural sector. Some of the crops that are grown include coffee, rice, sugar, and potato, and tobacco. Tobacco is one of the most important out of them. The location of Cuba is an excellent climate for the production of tobacco. Their Cuban cigars are famous worldwide and has caught attention for their excellent quality. His Excellency proudly described how each cigars are made carefully by hand in the province, Pinar del Rio. Thus, they have become a traditional product and have become to serve as a popular souvenir for tourists. Furthermore, His Excellency introduced us to some of the Cuban cuisine. The Cuban cuisine is a mixture of the Spanish and Caribbean cuisine. Their staple foods are pork, corn, rice, and beans.
Health and Education - (Madoka)
H.E. Mr. Rodríguez explained to us that “the most important resource of Cuba is its people.” The nationalized Cuban education is very well-established, as 10% of the population proceed their studies to receive a higher education. Cuba hosts many reputable colleges and universities. Since the 1959 revolution, the educational system has been nationalized, and has been a large priority of the country. Schools became mandatory and available for children in all regions and literacy centers were opened to educate all Cubans, resulting in the exceptional literacy rate Cuba holds today.
The spectacular healthcare of Cuba is another great strength of the country. H.E. Mr. Rodríguez mentioned that out of the Cuban population of 11 million people, there are approximately 75 thousand medical doctors.
Similar to Japan’s large focus on medical technology, Cuab offers many opportunities for high-level medical training. Hospitals in Cuba are not only plentiful in number but also are sufficient in equipment, technology, and various specialized services.
Both island nations, Cuba and Japan support each other’s economy through trade. Cuba has many resources such as nickel, cobalt, sugarcane, and tobacco, as well as a large fish market. Many Cuban lobsters are sold and exported to Japan. Cigars produced in Cuba are famous for being all hand made. Cuba’s refined Petroleum which account for 14.5 % of their export market take part as a primary fuel in their export destinations.
The ambassador shared with us some of the national symbols of his country. The Cuban Trogon is the national bird of Cuba. Its feathers are blue, white, and red: the three colors of the national flag. The bird is also one that cannot live in a confined space; the bird may not be treated a pet. This symbolises the cultural values of the Cuban people who cherish freedom and the love of others. The national flower of Cuba is called Mariposa which is also known as the white ginger. An important value of the flower is its smell. Lastly, the palm tree is the national tree of Cuba. As a common tree in Cuba, the palm matches the country’s seasonality and has become a prominent symbol of the country.
H.E. Mr. Rodriguez described the national flag of Cuba. It consists a red triangle on the left side with blue and white stripes on the right. The red triangle on the left side of the nation flag represents the three goals of Cuba: equality, freedom and fraternity. The color red is the color of the blood people had shed during the fight for their nation’s independence. The blue stripes refer to the three initial divisions of the island. The white lines express the purity of the battle for independence. Finally, the white star is referred to as the “La Estrella Solitaria” symbolises the freedom among the Cuban people.
H.E. Mr. Rodriguez described how the people of Cuba have been playing an active part in Japan. Many Cubans have spread their love for their tradition and culture by introducing Cuba’s dances and songs.  serves as an excellent example. In fact,  visited the the Embassy of Cuba when he came to Japan for a concert which he held in 2011. His Excellency turned to the piano in the corner of the room, and to our surprise, he showed us ’s signature that he left behind. We were greatly touched by the love, admiration, and respect that the people of Cuba have for .
Cubans have also been taking part in the Japanese sports industry, such as baseball. There have been about twenty Cuban baseball athletes including Yulieski Gourriel Castillo, Leslie Anderson Stephes, and Omar Linares Izquierdo have played for the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization. They have earned great respect for their outstanding physical ability and their wild charm.
We had an opportunity to see for ourselves the love and appreciation that the Cubans have for their arts. His Excellency introduced a few of the portraits that were hung upon the wall, which included the current president, Raúl Castro, and José Martí, who was a national figure for his work through literature.
H.E. Mr. Rodríguez introduced to us various tourist destinations of Cuba. There are approximately 3 million tourists visiting Cuba per year, in which the majority are Canadians to whom the warm Cuban climate is perhaps very appealing. H.E. Mr. Rodríguez commented that the number of Japanese tourists have also been increasing; In 2014, the number of Japanese tourists visiting Cuba was around 7,000, yet in 2015, the number exceeded a double to be approximately 15,000.
An example of a popular tourist attraction for the Japanese according to H.E. Mr. Rodríguez is the fortresses built by the Spaniards during their period of colonization. The fortresses served to protect the very important trading point, Havana harbor. The National Cathedral is another tourist destination of Cuba that was built during the 16th century. The Havana Cathedral reflects a Baroque architectural style, and contains various paintings and frescoes.
The natural features of Cuba are marveled and greatly appreciated by tourists. Cuban beaches are very blue and beautiful, with a low water level which allows people to enjoy the spacious and clean waters of the sea. H.E. Mr. Rodríguez also mentioned that Cuba is a “tropical country full of green and nature.” Tourists enjoy the greenery of Cuba, including its beautiful mountains. The walking courses in Cuba are very popular amongst the Japanese tourists.
Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad, are more popular tourist destinations in Cuba. The beautiful towns reflect the historical architecture and colorful culture of the nation. Furthermore the American antique cars, that are about 50 to 60 years old, is a unique quality of Cuban roads that adds a distinct taste to the Cuban townscape.
Cuba-Japan Relations (Madoka)
The first contact between Cuba and Japan was in July 1614, when the Japanese samurai, Hasekura Tsunenaga, set out on a mission to travel from Japan to Europe under the project of the daimyo of Sendai, Date Masamune. Hasekura, accompanied with other samurais, priests, merchants, servants, and sailors, left Ishinomaki in Sendai, Japan in late 1613. His ship crossed the Pacific ocean to reach Mexico, as the troop then made their way across Cuba and arrived in the country in July 1614. The troop had a six day stay in Havana, Cuba, before proceeding their travels to Spain, Italy, Mexico, and then back to Japan. The whole mission, named “Keisho”, had the total duration of 7 years. A bronze statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga stands at the head of Havana Bay since April 2001, marking the special day of the first Cuba-Japan contact. Formal diplomatic relations between Cuba and Japan started 80 years ago, when the two countries exchanged embassies. Yet since long before the 1930s, there has been a community of Japanese descendants in Cuba on the Island of Youth, also known as the Island of Pines. Although many of them do not speak Japanese, they continue various Japanese traditions and treasure their identity as being both Japanese and Cuban. H.E. Mr. Rodríguez explained that the Japanese people in Cuba are taken great care of by the government and Japanese embassy. He said that there are various economic projects today that are taking place to support this Japanese community. Especially since the revolution of Cuba, relations between Cuba and Japan have been greatly flourishing. The sharing of culture prospered during the 1970s and 80s, as Cuban sports, music, and dance (such as the salsa) have spread vastly in Japan. There are many studios and academies teaching Cuban dance in Japan today. Furthermore in the economic aspect, there has been an increase in trade of medical equipment between the two countries during the last 4-5 years. Cuba is also currently working with Japan in regards to energy conservation, and are locating various companies for foreign direct investment. In 2015, the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs made a visit to Cuba for the 1st time, which displayed the strengthening relations between Cuba and Japan. H.E. Mr. Rodríguez believes that this brings for a possibility of “more dialogue” and a “greater understanding” between the two nations. He said, “I have big hopes for the relationship in the future”.
Steps to Overcome Gender Inequality (Kurumi)
Regarding what actions Cuba had been taking for gender equality, H.E. Mr. Rodríguez stated that it is something that is certainly in the minds of the Cuban people and that they are “working on it”. He mentioned that when the Cuban Revolution terminated back in 1959, women in Cuba were largely discriminated. After this, the Cuban government began working to make a better environment for both men and women. As a result, currently about 60% of the people working professionally are women. In addition to this, women take up approximately 48% of the positions within the Parliament and there are 40 women ambassadors. “In embassies in Cuba and other embassies abroad, all wives of ambassadors work in the embassy,” H.E. Mr. Rodriguez revealed. Despite this dramatic development, he comments that he is “still not satisfied”, as Cuban women tend to have two jobs: a job outside of their households and a job within their households, as a housewife. For this reason, the Cuban government is making efforts to equalize the salaries of women with that of men. Cuba has made enormous progress regarding this matter and this could be seen within the global spectrum as well. In 2015, the nation ranked third in terms of female representation in the country’s main governing body. They are evidently making a move towards achieving equality and they will probably improve further in the future. The First Step to World Peace (Kurumi)H.E. Mr. Rodriguez claimed that Cuba is “working hard for the total and complete elimination of nuclear weapons”.“But it is not only about weapons. Cuba considers the first input for world peace is the elimination of poverty, as well as the improvement of healthcare and education, and the recognition of social and human rights,” he stated. However, he also shared his perspective regarding this issue. According to H.E. Mr. Rodriguez, the key to achieve world peace belongs to the effort of “the people”. “Peace belongs to the people and the first step comes from mankind. Fidel Castro had once said that if there was one species that was going to disappear, it would be humans,” he commented. During the last 50 years, Cuba has been experiencing numerous problems. “Cubans wanted independence and peace to develop the people for better treatment and life,” H.E. Mr. Rodriguez spoke.
Working in Japan (Kurumi)
Since H.E. Mr. Rodriguez has been serving as a Cuban Ambassador in Japan for quite awhile, we asked him what his passion for working in Japan. “I think it is a very important mission. I have a respect for the Japanese people and I admire their discipline and tenacious attitude, especially after the unfortunate event in 1945,” he commented. During World War II, Japan had suffered severe damages in many locations, and H.E. Mr. Rodriguez was astonished by the Japanese people’s ability to reconstruct the nation once again. He expressed that he feels honored to work for the development of the relationship between Cuba and Japan and he revealed that after 1945, there was a sort of national empathy that existed by the Cuban people towards the Japanese people. Since his arrival in November, 2012, H.E. Mr. Rodriguez has been trying to do his best for Cuba and Japan, primarily to increase the amount of interaction between the two countries.
Goals as an Ambassador (Kurumi)
H.E. Mr. Rodriguez shared that he has two main goals to achieve as an Ambassador. Firstly, he stated that he is working to “develop relations [between Cuba and Japan] to a higher state in all fields, particularly in the economic field”. Moreover, he wishes to reduce misunderstandings and reject “false images” of Cuba that may be dissipating through media. “I hope the Japanese people would understand better about Cuba’s real situation. We are now establishing a better relationship with the U.S. and we are making efforts to normalize [our relationship with the U.S.] with the help of President Obama,” H.E. Mr. Rodriguez revealed. He was especially touched by this action, as the last time the U.S. president visited Cuba was back in 1928 by President Calvin Coolidge. Significant steps are being taken and we, the International School Network will warmly support the efforts Cuba is making towards the improvement of their nation, as well as the actions they are taking to create an amicable environment.
Madoka Nishina 12th Saint Maur International School
Kate Shimizu 12th Seisen International School
Kurumi Onishi 11th Saint Maur International School
Karen Nishina 6th Saint Maur International School
Moe Onishi 6th Saint Maur International School