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A friend in need

A friend in need

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Today, August 31, 2021, we send our congratulations to the government and people of the twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) on the occasion on its 59th anniversary of independence. It was on this date in 1962 that Dr Eric Williams bravely followed in the footsteps of Jamaica, which had three weeks earlier become the first Caribbean nation to attain political independence after the break-up of the ill-fated West Indies Federation.

St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and T&T have had close links over many years and this bond of friendship and kinship has continued to this day. There are times when narrow nationalism and a false sense of prosperity have weakened the bonds, but they have always been rebuilt and that nation remains a strong ally of ours and we have very important economic and trading relations.

While we are on this topic of solidarity, it is perhaps fitting to lend our full support to the appeal launched by three local organisations for assistance to another close Caribbean friend of ours, the Republic of Cuba. Last week three locally-based organisations, the SVG Medical Association, the Association of Cubans resident in SVG, and the SVG/Cuba Friendship Society launched an appeal for donations to help Cuba which is in dire straits following crippling sanctions by the United States which severely restricts its ability to trade with other nations.

It is ironic that Cuba, which is the only Caribbean nation to manufacture its own home-grown and internationally-sought vaccines against the deadly coronavirus disease, is hamstrung in its ability to protect its population and help the rest of us in this hemisphere because of a shortage of medical supplies and basic food items.

The Appeal is the more particularly important given the nature of the Cuban difficulties and the importance of combating the global pandemic. It is also significant that the three organisations named are participating. Though the Cuban Friendship Society has been around since 1976, there are still some among us who, based on negative perceptions of Cuba, would have nothing to do with it or its activities.

Cuba’s example has shone by contrast. Though most Caribbean countries followed US dictates in isolating Cuba for long years, Cuba never turned its back. In 1979 when SVG was blasted by La Soufriere volcano, Cuba sent a boat load of food supplies, even though our government had to be coaxed and virtually shamed into accepting it.

When governments, including our own, refused Cuban offers of free University scholarships, a priceless gift especially in those days, Cuba made the offer open to citizens of the region and through the Friendship Society, the first Vincentian students began studies there in 1980. Great results have emerged from that relationship, including the current Deputy Secretary General of CARICOM, two of our long-serving Ambassadors, the former deputy Head of the national bank, and the person who led our thrust for telecommunications independence, now deceased.

Over the past 40 years, Cuba has trained many times 40 of our intellectual cadre in an host of fields. Thousands of Vincentians have benefitted from its medical services here and abroad. Who can forget the Vision Now programme out of which even elderly citizens were able to regain their sight? And should we mention the bedrock of our new tourism thrust, the Argyle International Airport and the Modern Medical Diagnostic Centre at Georgetown?

If truth be told we have not always reciprocated to the same degree. We have the opportunity now when Cuba is in dire need. A Bank account has been established at the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines, A/C # 130016 in the name of the SVG/Cuba Friendship Society. Please give generously and let us demonstrate our gratitude and solidarity. Additionally, let us all respond to Cuba as it has to us. Cuba never let its solidarity be encumbered by whether the Labour Party, NDP or ULP was in power. We have benefitted all along. Let us reciprocate in kind!