O.Erdene: Cubans were not taken aback by our democratic transition

2020-09-11 15:15:10

Ulaanbaatar /MONTSAME/ On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Republic of Cuba, we interviewed former Mongolian Ambassador to Cuba O.Erdene, who was the first Mongolian to study in Cuba.

--How did you begin your journey with the country?

-I am one of the Altai boys born on the foothills of Sutai Sacred Mountain. After graduating from school in Tonkhil soum, I landed a university course in elementary education with Jasrai Puntsag who later became the Prime Minister of Mongolia and went to the capital. As we graduated from university, the State Institute of Education started offering a Russian language teacher program. Writer L.Tudev was in that course I completed in 1956. In 1959, I was sent to Bayankhongor aimag with my wife and started teaching at school.

But I wanted to study international relations including Mongolia’s foreign policy, and its implementation.  Luckily I got an opportunity to inform the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of my wish during his visit to the aimag. He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the training of foreign service officers and recommended making an application and preparing for the exam. Then, in June 1962, I passed the exam. The ministry council convened and decided to send three of the people who passed the exam to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. I was sent to Cuba with a guy named Shatar who was a firefighter in Nalaikh even though I was hoping to go to the MGIMO. When I was about to choose my major, they appointed me as Third Secretary at the Embassy in Cuba, considering I have reached the appropriate level for language proficiency. I was the first Mongolian to study in Cuba and the first Mongolian Consulate General to be appointed to Leningrad.

-What was going on in the country when you went there? It must have been hard for someone from a four-season country to live in a tropical country?

-The country was in a difficult situation due to economic and political pressure from the United States. Then leader of the country Fidel Castro held public speeches a lot, calling on his people to be ready to protect their country and donate their blood. We, students, gave our blood together in preparation for the possible war between the two countries. However, thanks to the Soviet Union’s decision to retrieve the ballistic missiles that could have been a cause of the war, the use of military force was avoided and the situation calmed down. I would frequently miss my home country that was far away and sometimes rest on tall trees to escape heat. Even though the country does not have much natural resources and livestock, on the mornings, bottles of milk, one for each child, would be left on the doorstep of every household. I wondered where the milk came from when there were not many cattle, but later learned that it was the country’s government taking action to provide every child with milk.

-How was the relationship between Mongolia and Cuba before you assumed office? What events took place in the relations between the two countries?

-The two countries traditionally have friendly relations. The state of bilateral relations could be evaluated by the presence of high-level state visits between the two countries. Chair of the People’s Great Khural (then upper house of the parliament) of the Mongolian People’s Republic Yu.Tsedenbal visited Cuba in 1972 and J.Batmunkh in 1984 and former Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Raul Castro visited Mongolia in 1970. Also, there have been humanitarian and education investments and students exchanges. The country covers all expenses except travel for Mongolian students on government scholarship. It has provided higher education for many agricultural and healthcare professionals of Mongolia over the past six decades. Even though the countries have an agreement to mutually exchange students, only two students have come from Cuba so far, as Mongolian language is not really used there.

-You have served as Third Secretary at the Mongolian Embassy until 1966. How much had changed in the country when you returned as an Ambassador after 22 years?

-Things were changed a lot. The country was in a stable political and economic state. Yes, there were still difficulties, but it became able to take care of itself without the need for foreign aid.

-What issue did you focus on during your term as the Ambassador? What Cuban innovations did you introduce to Mongolia?

-One thing I am proud of is the role I played in the introduction of family health centers. I have always looked into good practices that would be useful for Mongolia. The first thing I did as a Mongolian Ambassador there was contact the Ministry of Health and other organizations with the idea of introducing Cuban family health centers in Mongolia. Immediately after, the Health Ministry sent a specialist and family health centers were built in Mongolia. But the Cuban family health centers are different from what we think them to be. There, health professionals provide services 24 hours every day.

-The two countries have signed three documents on legal, trade, and economic relations and cooperation during your term as the Ambassador. The Agreement on the provision of mutual legal assistance in civil, family and criminal matters between Mongolia and the Republic of Cuba, for example, was established in 1989. What caused the need for the agreement?

-When it was not allowed for a Mongolian to marry a foreign national, two or three Mongolians wanted to marry Cuban citizens. That is why the document came about. As for the causes for the ones on economic cooperation, Cuba is located too far and there were problems with transport costs and so on as Mongolia does not have sea access. Also, leather products exported from Mongolia had been ruined on the way.

-Mongolia had political and economic transition when you were in office as Ambassador. Did that affect the relations between the two countries?

-We were both socialist countries at the time. But the open and friendly people of Cuba were not taken aback at the news about our transition to democracy.

-What are your thoughts on the current relationship and future cooperation with Cuba?

-It is feasible for us to cooperate in every sector. Though geographically distant, the two countries can deepen bilateral relations as we both aim for development and prosperity. I have presented my letter of credence to the heads of Nicaragua, Argentina, and Mexico as a nonresident Ambassador, while the Embassy of Cuba in Mongolia is not in charge of countries other than Mongolia. This shows how much importance it attaches to its relations with us and with this, the relations between the two countries will surely expand further.