No lies!: Assistance provided to students in CubaWednesday, August 11, 2021
I took note of a recent letter to the editor published by the Jamaica Observer on the matter of students in Cuba, which went so far as to assert that I was lying about assistance given. I stand by the statement issued by the ministry on July 28, 2021, which answers most of the assertions made by the writer, some of which are likely to be based on misunderstandings and perhaps some communication failures.
I wish to assure the student in need, however, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade recognises that access to supplies of basic items in Cuba has been disrupted. We empathise with him/her and all students in Cuba in these difficult and unusual circumstances and we are working to improve communication and support.
Through our embassy in Havana, we have, however, remained actively engaged in responding to regular consular requests of the student population, as well as the specific challenges now being experienced. Unfortunately, travel restrictions introduced an internal capacity constraint at the embassy, which further disrupted the ministry's efforts to organise shipments to students in Cuba in collaboration with their parents in Jamaica.
The challenges with clearance and delivery are significant, and shipping to Cuba is not simple, notwithstanding our geographic proximity. Some countries also have significant airlift into Cuba — this is not the situation of Jamaica. Alternatives are, however, being actively explored in light of the new temporary importation measures recently announced by the Government of Cuba.
As the situation unfolds the ministry is working to improve coordinated engagement with student groups across Cuba. It might interest the student and the public to note, for example, that in this situation we have been advised of more than 30 students in Cuba who entered privately, who never registered with the embassy or otherwise contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, and who form part of the group also seeking assistance.
We have been working to determine the most urgent needs of the students who have not returned home, as well as the best way forward in these complex circumstances. We are, therefore, consulting with parents and other representative groups, as well as interested stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.
Most recently, on Wednesday, August 4, the ministry convened a virtual meeting with a representative group of parents, students, and the relevant government agencies. Signals coming from that meeting are extremely positive and we will reconvene as soon as possible when there are firm proposals and actions on which we can report. Students and their families can be assured that we are building on the mutual understanding reached to address the students' immediate needs in the shortest time.
Senator Kamina Johnson Smith
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade