“We are Doing All That We Can” – Embassy of SVG in Cuba
Ellsworth John, Ambassador to Cuba of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG)
June 1, 2020

“We are Doing All That We Can” – Embassy of SVG in Cuba

by Bria King

Parents of some of the Vincentian students in Cuba are expressing their dissatisfaction with how matters are being dealt with by the Embassy of St Vincent and the Grenadines there, as it relates to the wellbeing of their children.

But the ambassador is adamant that his Embassy has been trying to the best of their ability to see how they can help the students.

According to a release issued last week, the caucus of CARICOM Ambassadors in Cuba, through then chairman, Ambassador Ellsworth John of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) took the initiative to order masks, sanitisers, wipes and antibacterial soap for their students and Embassies.

The decision was taken on March 19, shortly after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Cuba and was a response to the call for citizens to practice good hygiene.  The release said the container was delivered to the official residence of SVG on May 22, after over two months of delays.

One parent, speaking to SEARCHLIGHT last week, described the release as bogus and the supplies given as not being enough for students.

“If you put yourself as a student…would you feel happy after all the long wait, you bringing that and no food? That’s the point I’m making,” the individual said.

“Our Vincentian populace needs to be properly informed by these people. They’re giving the impression that they’re looking after the students so well. According to the parent, the package contained few items including a soap, a deodorant, bottled water and “one dust mask —not a proper one”.

The parent added that it is not that they are ungrateful for the package but they believe that the students would prefer food, “something to sustain them until they ready to come home”.

But Ellsworth John, SVG’s ambassador to Cuba told SEARCHLIGHT that the Embassy’s role is not to supply food to students.  He added that the Cuban Government has in fact been providing students with three meals per day during the pandemic.

“When we placed the order as a CARICOM community, our emphasis was on personal care and safety and so the things that we ordered were in the realm of antibacterial soap for the students to wash their hands…,” John explained.

Supplies for CARICOM students being unpacked in Havana

The ambassador said masks, sanitisers and wipes were also part of the order. But when the container was opened, only the antibacterial soap and masks came.  He said that he was unsure of what happened but that the person who made the purchase will send the missing supplies in short order.

“The supplies that were given in terms of the antibacterial soap is probably enough to last for the next two months,” John told SEARCHLIGHT.

“Some of the students were complaining that they can’t get certain supplies like soap, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, so we went around, we got a Cuban to help us to see if we could get some soap and deodorant and pads.”

With respect to food items, the ambassador said the Embassy has offered to students unable to leave campus in Havana, the service of a driver, who will take students’ names, list of items and money to purchase food items to supplement what they receive from the institution.

He said the driver has been to the campus twice to do this for students.  “There are 24 students at that school here in Havana. Four students have taken advantage of that offer. Some of the students that have been most vocal about not getting fruits and vegetables have not taken advantage of the offer,” John told SEARCHLIGHT.

He added that students at other schools are able to leave their campuses.

“I don’t have any special accommodation or special access to things that the students don’t have access to. The only advantage that I might have is mobility, the ability to move around and in some cases, the students are restricted in that area and that is why we have offered to have the driver go to the school so that they can buy some things for the students,” John said.

The ambassador said the only Vincentian students who have received supplies from the order made by the caucus of CARICOM ambassadors are those at ELAM in Havana.  The other students in other provinces are expected to receive their packages by the end of this week.

SVG’s Embassy in Cuba has come under much criticism in recent times in the media for its response to the plight of students in the midst of the pandemic.

But the ambassador said his Embassy has been trying to the best of their ability to see how they can help the students.

“If the parents in St Vincent feel strongly about the fact that their children need additional food, then they can continue along the path they have been going about chartering a fight to send the stuff to their children and paying the cost that is associated with it,” he said.

He further described “the negativity from parents and students” as disconcerting, especially since no one has said definitively what they expect the Embassy to do differently from what they are currently doing.