It is said that “A friend in need, is a friend indeed”. If we accept that saying, we must be constantly on the alert for any friends that we have who may be in dire need and be prepared to make the sacrifice to demonstrate that we are “friends indeed”. This is especially so in times of natural disasters. We are no strangers to these, and have benefited tremendously from the deeds of all kinds of friends of ours, friends with differing political outlooks, but who all have unhesitatingly come to our rescue, both in terms of urgent relief as well as in rehabilitation and recovery.
While the urgency of natural disasters makes demonstrated friendship particularly remembered, friendship is also demonstrated in more mundane matters as well as in matters of strategic importance to economic development. There are those who still remember the transformative effect of the Canadian-funded deep water harbour in Kingstown six decades ago.
In more modern times, a similarly transformative effect was the assistance rendered to this country in the construction of our international airport, by a range of countries, among them the Republic of Cuba. Several other friends contributed to the success of the project as well but I single out Cuba in relation to present-day circumstances.
We are all aware that the Caribbean lies in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms which traverse the region during the second half of each year. The entire region is therefore vulnerable to this threat but some islands, because of the coincidence of their location and the frequency of the path of hurricanes seem to be more affected than others. Among these are the northern Caribbean countries of Haiti and Cuba.
Unfortunately the vulnerability of these countries and their own capacity for relief, recovery and rehabilitation are compromised by a number of historical and political factors. Haiti, in spite of the resilience of its people, has wallowed in a state of poverty and underdevelopment, brought about by foreign nations ever since its bold overthrow of the heinous system of slavery more than two centuries ago.
Cuba too, has had more than its fair share of external intervention and pillage. Like Haiti, it too threw off the yolk of Spanish colonialism only to suffer the indignity of imperialism from its neighbour to the north. That too was defeated through its courageous Revolution in 1959. Just as Haiti was punished for overthrowing slavery, Cuba too continues to be punished for having the audacity to determine its own path to development.
At a time when many countries of the world, not just those as small as ours but larger and more resource-endowed, receive critical international assistance in their developmental thrust, Cuba is denied access to many of these sources by a cruel 60-year embargo imposed by the USA and by that country using its pervading influence internationally to isolate Cuba, particularly as regards trade and finance.
For all its noble efforts, Cuba has suffered tremendously particularly in terms of its ageing infrastructure, being deprived of the means to access development assistance. It means that at times of natural disaster damage, Cuba is particularly vulnerable. A poignant example of this is the fact that the entire electricity grid of that country was knocked out when hurricane Ian hit Cuba on Tuesday of this week, plunging the entire country in darkness. Can you imagine what effect that has in terms of inability to maintain communication during a crippling storm?
Reports from Cuba are still sketchy but even then, it is clear that our northern neighbour has received a crippling body-blow. Cuba is not just a Caribbean neighbour where our country is concerned. It is not just assistance in making our international airport a reality, but a number of ways in which Cuba has demonstrated its friendship and solidarity with the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Just ask the thousands who had their eyesight restored, the thousands more who have benefitted from Cuban internationalist medical programmes, not to count the invaluable contribution in education No one can deny this.
Given these circumstances should we not make similarly sacrificial steps to assist Cuba in its hour of need? It is a lot of sacrifice that the Cuban people have had to endure to help its brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and other parts of the world. Should we not then feel, not just obliged to, but eager to scratch the back of those who scratched ours?
We cannot just leave it up to the government though we must demand, given the level of state-to-state relations, that it has a leading role to play. Can’t we mobilize assistance, especially in such critical areas as food, and demand that our government undertake the assignment to find means of transport, including urgent air freight, to help Cuba? Other areas such as building materials must be on the cards as well.
We who know what selfless internationalism is like must now take the lead and demonstrate that we are indeed “FRIENDS IN NEED”.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.