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The Caribbean can count on Cuba

Monday, December 17, 2012    

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THIS month, Cubans together with the Caribbean people are again celebrating Caricom-Cuba Day, officially observed every December 8. This year we are also marking the 40th anniversary of the joint decision by the governments of four countries, namely, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The brave political decision, taken on December 8, 1972 by the then four newly independent countries, in a climate of hostility and enormous pressure, was a breach in the isolation imposed on Cuba. Years later, other Caribbean states became independent and also established diplomatic relations with Cuba. Cuba will never forget this noble gesture on the part of its Caribbean brothers and sisters!

The courageous gesture in 1972 marked the beginning of the close and excellent relations of friendship, solidarity and cooperation which Cuba enjoys today with all Caricom member states. At present, Cuba has resident ambassadors in the 14 independent member states of Caricom.

The establishment of December 8 as Caricom-Cuba Day was agreed on during the First Caricom-Cuba Summit held in Havana, Cuba, in December 2002. The Second Summit was held in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 2005. The Third Summit took place in December 2008 in Santiago de Cuba, where President Raúl Castro welcomed the respective leaders of Caricom. At this third summit, the Honorary Order of the Caribbean Community was presented to the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. The Fourth Summit, the most recent one, was held in December 2011 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Caricom countries, including Jamaica, share a clear position in favour of the lifting of the unfair US blockade imposed on Cuba, and we deeply appreciate this.

Since 1972 to the present, Cuba has supported its Caribbean brothers' and sisters' efforts aimed at consolidating their regional integration. In this context, Cuba has been providing cooperation in the fields of education, training of human resources, health, energy-saving, agriculture and others, which is a successful example of South-South cooperation.

During these 40 years, more than 20,000 Cuban specialists have provided their services in all Caricom countries, mainly in the health and educational sectors. Cuba´s scholarship programmes have benefited over 3,600 Caricom nationals, while more than 2,300 students from those countries are currently studying in Cuba. All Caricom countries have received cooperation through the "Miracle Operation" Eye Care Programme which has benefited thousands of Caribbean patients.

In the case of Haiti, Cuba's cooperation did not start with the 2010 earthquake or after the cholera outbreak. Our cooperation with our Caribbean neighbour has been ongoing for more than a decade in various sectors.

In spite of being a developing nation, Cuba regards cooperation with other peoples of the South as a duty and a reason for satisfaction. For Cuba, it is not about giving others what we have to spare but to modestly share the few resources that we have, as our humble contribution to build a better world.

We Cubans are proud of our Caribbean roots and of our relations with the nations in the region.

The commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and Jamaica takes place at a very special moment for Jamaica, precisely when this country has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Independence.

Both countries have exchanged an important number of high-level visits which have contributed to nurture this valuable bilateral relationship. During my tenure as ambassador to Jamaica, I have had the privilege to witness an exchange of high-level visits between our two countries, not only at the government level but also at other levels including our respective parliaments and universities.

During the current year, for example, a Cuban delegation headed by Esteban Lazo, vice-president of the Council of State, visited Jamaica to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Mrs Portia Simpson Miller as prime minister. On the other hand, Cuba has received a number of important delegations headed by Jamaican ministers of government.

It should be recalled that one of Cuba's first bilateral cooperation projects in Jamaica was the construction in the late 1970s of three important educational institutions — the José Martí Technical High School, the Garvey-Maceo High School and the GC Foster College of Sports and Physical Education. They remain among the symbols of the long-standing ties of friendship and cooperation which both countries have had.

During these four decades, Cuba's scholarship programmes have benefited over 600 Jamaicans while more than 200 Jamaicans are currently studying in Cuba.

In 2005, the "Miracle Operation" Eye Care Programme started in Jamaica and, as a result, a number of Jamaican patients went to Cuba for eye surgeries. In January 2010, the Jamaica-Cuba Ophthalmology Centre was opened in Kingston. Overall, since 2005 to date, more than 65,000 Jamaicans have been screened under this programme while more than 9,000 patients have undergone eye surgery, free of charge.

Currently, in Jamaica there are more than 200 Cuban specialists supporting bilateral programmes mainly in the fields of health and education.

The bust in Kingston of our beloved General Antonio Maceo is just a reminder that our bilateral relationship is based on historic bonds.

My government ratifies Cuba's unwavering will to continue strengthening and expanding the relations of brotherhood, solidarity and cooperation between Cuba and Jamaica.

Cuba was received 40 years ago with an embrace of solidarity by its Caribbean brothers and sisters. Jamaica and other peoples of the Caribbean Community will always be able to count on Cuba's respect, friendship and solidarity.

The above is an edited version of an address by Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Yuri Gala, at the official ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 6, 2012, to commemorate Caricom-Cuba Day and the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jamaica and Cuba.

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