Cuba vows to continue support, despite economic squeeze
DESPITE the harsh economic conditions that have flattened some world economies and placed enormous pressure on others, Caribbean island Cuba will not reduce its generosity to dependent countries, its foreign minister has said.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Business Observer during a trip to Jamaica recently, Minister Bruno Rodrigues Parrilla said that although his country's economy was, like so many others, facing tough times, the assistance programmes that it has in place with developing countries would remain and benefits would not be reduced.
"The international economic environment is very difficult at present," Rodriguez Parrilla said. "We have lived up to our commitments, for example to train 100,000 medical doctors from the Caribbean and Latin American over 10 years and we have already covered that period this year.
"We committed ourselves to teach how to read and write to three million persons and that goal has already been met. We have performed almost two million eye surgeries, but our commitments are firm and we will maintain the present co-operation levels. At present we have co-operation with as many as 79 countries in the whole planet and Jamaica will always be a priority to us," Rodriguez Parrilla said.
Citing the half-a-century United States trade embargo as one of the main problems facing the Socialist island, Rodrigues Parrilla said that despite the challenges, the fight would go on.
"During these 50 years, Cuba lost US$750 billion as a result of the blockade," he said. "There have been other problems too. In 2008, as a result of climate change, there were three hurricanes that caused losses amounting to 20 per cent of our GDP (gross domestic product). We have also made our own mistakes and we have not managed to turn our economy into an efficient one. Right now, we are having a national debate looking at the Cuban economic model and introducing the necessary adjustments, mainly by developing a new tax system, changing the subsidies policy, so from now on we will be able to protect vulnerable households.
"We are going to reduce imports, further develop our agriculture and at some point in time we will have to eradicate the double circulation of currencies as we now have two Cuban currencies, one the convertible currency, the other one the national currency," he said.
There is a new beginning for the Cuban economy though, the foreign minister said, as the growth in export of skilled Cuban labour has started to manifest itself into a positive for the island.
"It is true that we are faced with economic difficulties, although Cuba's situation cannot be compared to the typical poverty situation affecting Third World countries," Rodrigues Parrilla said.
"The good news is that we have developed a significant human capital.
"For decades we have had a free of charge co-operation, today this has become a major source of revenue for the Cuban economy as we have started to export our services to countries that are able to afford them.
"At the same time, Cuba reached very high levels of education, which may help standards to advance elsewhere. We managed to get involved in deep medical research. We have enough technically skilled personnel, so we have a skilled labour force, which makes co-operation not that expensive," he said.