January 21, 2005
A push in the right direction

Twenty-five years after this country first sent students to pursue tertiary education in the Republic of Cuba, our Prime Minister has returned from a visit to the largest island in the Caribbean with news that relations are being further strengthened.{{more}}

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves last week met in Havana with President Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz for talks that the former has called fruitful. As a result Dr. Gonsalves has announced the intention to deepen the official ties existing between the two nations with Cuba setting up an embassy here while we establish a consulate in Havana.

The programme of technical assistance being provided by Cuba to this country will continue apace with, as early as next week, the arrival of three experts to examine plans for the proposed international airport at Argyle. This is in addition to the continued presence of Cuban engineers who have been providing assistance in the ministries of Transport and Works and Agriculture.

It was a group of 23 Cuban nurses who came to our assistance when the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital was haemorrhaging from a shortage of personnel just over three years ago. They have since left, but even today two specialist doctors still provide excellent service alongside our own at the hospital.

The world today is vastly different from the period of the Cold War that existed 25 years ago when Dr. Douglas Slater, Andreas Wickham and Berwin King quietly slipped out of this country to take up scholarships offered by the people of Cuba to the now defunct United People’s Movement (UPM). For those in the progressive movement, this step was about breaking new ground and affirming our independence as a people.

That programme grew slowly with successive groups of Vincentians leaving our shores on UPM scholarships to take advantage of the internationalist generosity of a blockaded Cuban people. Later, with the example firmly established, our government began accepting scholarships from Cuba and the opportunities expanded. Today there are about 150 Vincentians pursuing university education in that often misunderstood nation in broad areas of study that will further benefit our country’s development.

Today’s uni-polar world is really in no way any friendlier to the needs of developing nations. The tone of the language has changed but we are still trying to compete on a very uneven playing field. For this reason we must increasingly pursue strategic alliances with nations that are not just sympathetic to our problems, but have the resolve to assist us in concrete ways.

Cuba has demonstrated this attitude toward us, even though they are still bombarded by an economic blockade often termed criminal. That country still continues to make strides in education, sports, medicine, science and the arts despite the restrictions imposed upon their economy. Theirs is an example of resilience in the face of adversity other peoples of the developing world can learn from.

Twenty-five years after, we applaud the announcement by the government to go further, and deepen our relations with the people of Cuba. We stand only to benefit.