Diplomatic Relations between Cuba and Guyana1908 03 Jan, 2013
Dr. Norton: I rise to support the motion that is before this honourable House, on behalf of the main opposition, A Partnership for National Unity. It certainly would have been so much better if we, the Members of this National Assembly, on behalf of the people of Guyana, could have been congratulating Cuba on much more than forty years of establishing diplomatic relationship with Guyana. That is so because Cuba is truly a very remarkable country, especially, as it is stated in the fourth WHEREAS clause, because of the substantial contribution it is making to the development, not only of Guyana, but to countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, and to humanity in general.
To be able to appreciate just how special Cuba is to the world we only have to take a glimpse of its history that is so well documented, and it will do Guyana fine to take a leaf from of the book of Cuba in getting our history effectively documented as theirs.
Cuba has great respect and honours its indigenous peoples of the past. Cuba's first national hero is one of the earliest fighters against colonialism in the New World; I refer to the first martyr in the beginning of the struggle for Cuba's independence, Chief Hatucy from the Dominican Republic who was a local Taino chief, who was truly an internationalist. In 1511, with four hundred Taino indigenous people, he, in canoes, preceded the Spaniard Diego Velasquez as he headed towards Cuba to conquer Cuba from their natives. Chief Hatuey prepared and fought with the native Cuban indigenous peoples to prevent the taken over of Cuba by the Spaniards. In 1512 he was caught and burnt alive at the stake. Cuba honoured Chief Hatuey. I cannot help but feeling somewhat the same way; and I do hope the Hon. Minister, the mover of this motion, being a hundred per cent indigenous, as myself, would feel somewhat the same way.
Chief Hatuey is the logo in so many Cuban products and consumables; his head is on coins and postages stamps, whilst ships and a town are named after him. As you can see, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, the Government of Cuba did not go around changing the names of places which were specifically named in honour of the indigenous peoples of that country.
We cannot mention the history of Cuba, especially its struggle for independence, without referring to “The Father of the Country” or “The President of the Republic of Cuba in Arms”. We refer to Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, who was a Spaniard, had slaves and freed them, so that he could have declared the war of independence against Spain in 1868. He fought along with the famous Mambises. The Mambises would have been the Cuban guerrilla soldiers who fought the three wars against Spain for independence for Cuba. Today Cuba holds the Mambises in high regard, as an important piece of their cultural history as well as the ideal example of people who had lived up to contemporary revolutionary ideas. They represented a noble self-sacrifice for the father land and a fierce determination to be recognised as sovereign citizens. The Mambises fought for freedom and independence regardless of the odds against and sacrifices required. With no training, no pay, few weapons, little food and small in numbers, they gained independence for Cuba against all odds.
There was Maximo Gomez, as Chief Hatuey, from the Republican Dominican, again another internationalist. He was famous for the “cry of the Mambi” or “Al Machete” which was the machete that the used as the principal arm. Calixto Garcia, the son of an indigenous person, he was also from Cuba, preferred to be dead than captured, so he committed suicide. Antonio Maceo, “the Bronze Titan” from Santiago de Cuba, famous for the western invasion and most of all Don Jose Julian Marti Perez known as “Jose Marti” who is really and truly is the father of the revolution who formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party. He was sent to prison as a teenager for supporting the ten-year war and for merely entertaining the Cuban independence he was banished from Cuba. The greatest fear of Jose Marti was that the United States of America imperialistic forces would have annexed Cuba before the revolution could liberate from Spain, which actually happened.
The explosion of the United States of America ship “the Maine” in Havana, resulting in the Spanish-American war and the Treaty of Paris, with the declaration of the Republic of Cuba in1902, leaving a United States of America military base in Guantanamo Bay, is all history now, but it gives us a good picture of the situation that Cuba is in today.
The Cuba to which this motion refers is a total politically different and truly
independent Republic of Cuba. It is the Cuba which was led by El Comandante Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto Che Guevara, with the communist party of Cuba. In order for one to get an idea of the politics and philosophy of El Comandante I would just like to quote from his speech, in 1979, to the UN General Assembly, which was as relevant then as it is now today.
“There is always the talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to talk of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk bare feet for others to drive in luxury cars? Why should some live for seventy years when others are dying at thirty-five years? Why should some live miserably poor so that others can live hugely rich? I speak on behalf of the children of the world, who do not have a piece of bread to eat, I speak on behalf of the sick who have no medicine, on behalf of those whose rights to life and dignity are being denied.”
El Comandante and the communist party of Cuba governed Cuba in such an efficient manner that for over five decades it could have rendered variable assistance to the tertiary education in Guyana. Scholarships, given by Cuba, have increased the number of persons trained in different areas, including health, engineering, agriculture, sports and culture.
In the areas of health, the heads of department of specialist areas of psychiatry, pathology, orthopaedics, surgery, laboratory, ophthalmology and maxillofacial in Guyana were all occupied by Guyanese trained and specialised in Cuba. Some of these specialists have been around for over two and a half decades, some were the first such specialists in Guyana whilst others were the only such faculty in the entire country for extended periods. Actually, at some time in the past, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Guyana, the Director of Regional Health Services and the now the Director of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) were all Cuban trained. We now have a second generation of Cuban trained Guyanese medical doctors, that is, the children of Guyanese doctors, who have been trained in Cuba, have become doctors, who were trained in Cuba as well, and are now working here in Guyana.
Additionally, the establishment of clinics and provision for medical personnel has allowed for the delivery of health care services for over thirty years that Guyana and many other countries, which have benefited, would not have been able to afford. Actually, Cuba has sent medical doctors to over forty countries of the world and whilst Cuba is doing this, the quality of public health care offered to its citizen is regarded as the greatest triumph of the socialist system in Cuba. Cuba has the highest doctor to population ratio in the world. Life expectancy is the third highest in the Americas, after Canada and Chile. Infant mortality between the years 2000 and 2006 was 6.1 per one thousand live births. Cuba has unrestricted access to legal abortion and contraceptive use is estimated at seven per cent.
Post revolutionary Cuba has substantially helped seventeen governments in Africa alone and it is the only country to have embassies in all independent countries of the Caribbean. The CARICOM current Chairman, St. Lucia's Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, has observed and I quote:
“What is most striking about the solidarity displayed by Cuba with CARICOM is the quantum and diversity of the assistance that Cuba provides despite the constraints placed on its own economic development by the United States, commercial and financial embargo.”
It took some courage, forty years ago, on the 8th of December, 1972, in the height of the Cold War and in the backyard of the United States of America, for the newly independent Caribbean countries, led by the Hon. Mr. Michael Manley, the Hon. Dr. Eric Williams, the Hon. Mr. Errol Barrow, the Hon. Forbes Burnham, Prime Ministers of the four English speaking Caribbean countries, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to defy the wishes of the United States of America Government simultaneously by establishing diplomatic relationship between their respective countries and Cuba. At that time Cuba was recognised by not one single Latin American state. It was isolated by the Western Hemisphere, except for Canada. For in 1961, Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States by the United States of America for being Marxist-Leninist. By risking the wrath of the United States of America, those four small independent CARICOM sates, opened the way for other countries to similarly recognised Cuba. It is however felt by some experts that the economic, trade and investment opportunities provided by Cuba to CARICOM countries have not been fully taken advantage of, or has been neglected to some extent. This might become a cause for regret if it is not already regrettable, as Cuba opens up its economy to other countries. Europe, Latin America and Canada already are in Cuba and more are entering.
As we, in this National Assembly, fully support the third resolve clause that calls for the removal of the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, imposed by the Government of the United States of America, that embargo that the United Nation General Assembly voted overwhelmingly, only recently, for the twenty-first time condemning it, it is only a matter of time for that embargo will be lifted, as what happened in the year 2009 with the membership of the Organization of American States. When that happens the space for investment and trade with Cuba by CAR1COM countries will become even smaller and more highly competitive. We in Guyana need to move and move fast to take advantage of this opportunity that is provided by Cuba.
Cuba and CARICOM have had a joint commission since 1993 which is supposed to meet every year, but it has met infrequently. In the year 2000, Cuba and CARICOM signed again a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement, but in the twelve years, since, there has been very little investment by any Caribbean country, except for one hotelier from Jamaica. Under the same 2000 Agreement CARICOM had committed to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Cuba to be brought into effect in 2001, but nothing was done. Another article of the 2000 Agreement specifically encourages cooperation in tourism, covering multi-destination travel, training, language exchange and passage transport, but here, again, very little is being done in this regard.
No doubt, there are some difficulties in transacting commercial arrangement with Cuba. Only recently the Cuban Government has criticised what it described as the “unjust and illegal” multimillion dollar fines that the Unites States of America has imposed on two foreign banks for violating the sanctions it has against Cuba. The British Bank, HSBC, paid US$1.9 and Japan's Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Bank paid US$8.6M to the United States of America Government for violation of its sanctions against Cuba. But the Canadian and European companies are avoiding those fines and Trinidad and Tobago has two banks operating in Cuba, so there are means of overcoming these restrictions, especially since Caribbean banks have relationship with Caribbean and European banks, through which transactions can be handled.
The motion speaks of other expertise and major material resources provided by Cuba which have contributed to the development of Guyana and in particular the social sector. One such area, which such assistance is provided, is in sports. The national passion of Cuba is sports. Post revolutionary Cuba prides itself on its success in sports. According to El Comandante, “Sports is the right of the people and not the right of the wealthy”. In modern Cuban society, sports and physical education begin when a child is only forty-five days old. Only two years after, in post revolutionary Cuba, in 1961, the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation was developed.
All primary and secondary schools in Cuba teach sports and physical education as a compulsory subject, as well as up to a certain level of tertiary level educational institution. In Cuba all sport leagues and teams are considered amateur. In 1991, Cuba hosted the Pan American Games during which, for the first time in the history of those games, the United States of America was beaten by Cuba in the number of gold medals won. Apart from the scholarships in sports offered by Cuba to students in many different countries, ... I remember carefully seeing the number of Guyanese students in Cuba, because I studied there, of course, was about half the amount of the Jamaican students, but the Jamaican students were not studying medicine, they were studying sports. I do not have to tell you the ripples Jamaica is now in the world in the line of sports, especially in track and field. Probably the fruits are now there to pick. In 2007, Cuban sports trainers and coaches were not only in Guyana, but in fifty different countries of the world.
Baseball is by far the most popular and considered the national sport. One cannot speak about baseball without mentioning what is really and truly the icons of the Cuban societies with sportsmen such as**... ……………………… (Please insert the names of sportsmen) from Santiago de Cuba, just to mention a few of the baseball players who are national heroes.
After baseball, there is boxing. It is amazing to note that there are nineteen thousand Cubans practising amateur boxing in Cuba at one time. Of course, there are so many different sports - table tennis, lawn tennis, basketball. The Hon. Member Mr. Basil Williams would have benefited from the coaching of volleyball. I must let the House know that the Hon. Member not only represented Guyana at the junior level, but also at the senior level, so he is an authority in volleyball. Some of us, Hon. Members, in this House, would have gone on to get involved in sports, such as football, and we never kicked the football in our lives. Comrade Basil Williams actually played basketball at the highest level.
Cuba plays cricket too. Cricket is taught in school in Cuba and only recently there were twenty teams participated in the under-fifteen tournament and 2002 Cuba became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council, (ICC).
The motion refers to a sharing of common interests and concerns in areas of sustainable development, economic equity, social justice and combating climate change among others. Cuba has confronted Climate Change with a clear political will of state and government which has paved the way to integrate economic development, equity, social justice and environmental protection towards sustainable development. Since 1991, the Cuban Academy of Science had organised a National Commission for Studies about climate change. Guyana and Cuba do share common interests and concerns for various effects of climate change as a menace to sustainable development. Some of these effects are –
• increase in temperature, increase in their variability of precipitation;
• increase in the frequency and intensity of hydro meteorological events;
• rise in sea level, the damage of mangrove plants and other costal ecosystems;
• reduction in forest cover and loss in biodiversity;
• reduce in water availability and quality, and
• an increase impact of vector borne diseases.
This effect of climate change is a very serious situation that we have to confront here in Guyana, with respect to malaria as a vector borne disease.
The Minister of Health will tell you that malaria will remain a significant public health threat as rising gold prices send thousands of Guyanese flocking into the mining area where this disease is most prevalent.
In 2005, the price for gold on the world market was US $114 per ounce. At the end of last year, it was US $1,800 per ounce. Before the end of this year, it is expected to be US $3,000 per ounce. I am saying this to you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, because over the past four years, the number of persons in the gold mining activities in affected endemic malaria areas increased from 20,000 to 130,000 Guyanese. Mining for gold, as how it is done here in Guyana, reduces the availability and quality of water; it reduces the forest cover of the earth and contributes directly to the loss of biodiversity. In other words, this is climate change. To effectively combat climate change, there has to be significant changes in the gold mining industry in Guyana.
In order for Cuba to combat climate change, a lot of emphasis was placed in the energy sector. Cuba developed what was called Cuba’s Energy Revolution Programme which consists of energy saving and more efficient utilisation, something that we ought to take into consideration, transformation in the national electric system, increase in the utilisation of renewable energy, the use of biomass, the use of wind power, hydro power and of course, solar power. Cuba built its first solar power station in August of last year and there are plans for ten such power stations for this year. This is an area that we certainly need to look into. There are other programmes that Cuba has taken on board for its contribution to confront climate change. Here in Guyana, we should do the same, if we have not started doing so. I refer to the national forestry programme, water resource management, soil conservancy, drought management, protection against rural forest blaze, food security and urban planning.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, we from the A Partnership National Unity (APNU) here in this National Assembly, on behalf of the people of Guyana convey to the Government and the people of Cuba our congratulations on their 40th Anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Guyana and Cuba. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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