Minister of Health [Dr. Ramsaran]: Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. I rise to join with my colleagues in supporting and endorsing this motion in recognition of 40 glorious years since we established official or diplomatic relations with Cuba. I would like to join with them too in recognising the fact that Guyana and Cuba have been working together to bring wellness, health and progress to our two nations and people of a wider area even before that time. As those years rolled out, the past 50 years, there have been many stumbling blocks. [Interruption] My good friend prompted me 40 years. It is 40 years of diplomatic relations. I am speaking of the deeper relations that the two nations built even before that. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, as I said, on the way, there have been several hurdles to overcome. Some of the speakers before me referred to some of them. I will like to also draw some inferences from those examples of the struggles that we had to face and the obstacles to overcome because it has encouraged us to become stronger friends and to defend more and more what we believe in.
One simple example I recall during the discussions here is the Cuban boat which came for rice - a simple thing. Trade was being promoted between the two nations, but that was used as an occasion to besmirch the relationship between the two countries. That is between the relationship of the then British Guyana headed by Premier Jagan and the Cuban Revolution headed by Fidel Castro and a group including Che Guevara who was then the Minister of Trade. I would like to recall, I think it is our Minister of Foreign Affairs who said that instead of the guns that were supposed to be on that ship, they found what? Something more powerful than guns, a press; a press that gave birth to the Mirror Newspaper. The pen is more powerful Mr. Nagamootoo than the sword; mightier. Here is a celebratory edition of the Mirror Newspaper. We need to thank the Cuban Revolution for that because in those days there was the Argosy and the Chronicle defending vested interests. Che Guevara, one revolutionary leader and Cheddi Jagan down at the other end, united by these headlines, Cuban and the Inauguration of the Revolution. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, read it on page 7 of this edition. Then, at the bottom another revolutionary, Cheddi Jagan, Fighting for our New Human Global Order. That is the debt, especially to the young people, of the relations between Cuba and Guyana. When the young revolutionary movement in Guyana did not have its own mouthpiece the struggling Cuban Revolution sent on a rice boat, a boat coming to collect BG rice, the mechanism - that is the symbolism - an old press. We still have it for history. Mdm. Gail Teixeira will tell you it is there at the Mirror Newspaper and the others, for history will be written.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Dr. Ramsaran, for interest, is it still in use?
Dr. Ramsaran: Mdm. Chair, I said it is for archival and historic… we have move on. What I want to tell you is that my good friend Mr. Moses Nagamootoo would know that press; he worked on it. It is part of the history between Guyana and Cuba from the days when boats were struggling.
Let us look a bit earlier. I want to refer you to one of the best documented pieces, The West on Trial. [Mr. Greenidge: Oh, Lord.] I hear someone singing praises to the book from across the aisle. Thank you, Mr. Greendige. Let us turn to chapter and verse as your pastor would say, page 194. We are going to speak of some of the obstacles that 50-odd years ago these two small countries had to overcome. That is why now our struggles are entwined and we are united so that even the terror of the Cubana Air Disaster could not separate us. This is what Dr. Jagan records. Mr. Nagamootoo you might want to reminisce:
“We face similar obstructions with regard to an offer of economic aid by the Cuban Government… (that was in the days when the Revolution was young and when British Guiana was a colony under the visionary Jagan) …after discussions between me (Cheddi Jagan) and Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara in 1960 and 1961 the Cuban Government agreed to lend us in equipment and material - cement, steel, generators and so on - the equivalent in external cost of a 32 million hydro electric project at Malali Falls.”
So hydro power goes back long in this country. If we were not a colony then things would have been different. I am hearing some noises in the wilderness over there. History is written here. You cannot change this Mdm. Deputy Speaker; the Cuban Government agreed to lend us that. Dr. Jagan continues:
“…and also a loan of $5 million to establish a government-owned timber and wood pulp project. The Cuban Government wanted long grain wood pulp from our timbers to combine with short grain Cuban bagasse (that is sugarcane waste) for paper making.”
This is two poor countries; south, south cooperation we are talking about now. Listen further:
“The loans were offered on very good terms - a rate of interest of two percent and repayment in the form of wood pulp and other timber products. But since (listen to this good people) aid fell within the orbit of Foreign Affairs the offer had to be referred to the Colonial Office. No doubt, the Colonial Office consulted the Foreign Office which then consulted the United States State Department.”
The rest is history. The project was not allowed and now we are still struggling to get hydropower, but we will get there. So I just want to reflect on the deep ties between the two nations. I would like to go deeper and deeper, but I have been advised by Mdm. Gail Teixeira that we have a lot of business before the House. So I will flick, turn to a few late pages in the said book. Page 200:
“In the field of trade we made contacts with Venezuela, (of that time, almost 50 years ago) Puerto Rico and other countries in the West. But little materialized from this. Our biggest breakthrough (listen to this rice farmers) was securing the Cuban market for all our surplus rice. From the Cuban Government we secured a price of nearly two cents per pound higher than that obtained from the British West Indian Islands. This deal permitted the rapid expansion of the rice industry and resulted in relative prosperity and stability throughout the country.”
That was the basis of the friendship between the two nations. Material wellbeing for both using their comparative advantages. But then we can go on to look at some of the other hurdles. The Government of the United States and Britain… [Mr. Williams: What year was that?] [Mr. Seeraj: Get your own book.] This is according to Dr. Jagan in his book “The West on Trial”, page 250:
“The governments of the United States and Britain were deeply involved in the disturbances of 1962 and 1963. This was corroborated by the United States columnist Drew Pearson. In a syndicated article published March 22, 1964, headed “Castro and Jagan”. Pearson said in part... Mdm. Foreign Affairs Minister quoted the first paragraph so I will skip that. …Though it was never published at that time this was the secret reason why Kennedy took his trip to England in the summer of 1963. He had promised Primer Fanfani and Chancellor Adenauer to go to Rome and Bonn.
This part shows, not to repeat her, that they were fearful of the friendship between two small countries germinating into something powerful on the continent. So those are some of the deep roots of the friendship between the two countries. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, this book has since been updated and there are new pictures in the new edition which should be, of course, the reading manual for anyone wanting to explore this topic: the relationship between Cuba and Guyana over the last 40 years.
As I said, this relationship started as two small countries in a changing world. Remember the post colonial period Ghana was about to happen; India had gotten independence; the international situation was changing in the wake of World War II. Two small countries were coming together to hammer out, jointly, best policies in the foreign affairs arena and locally for their people. They had to overcome those hurdles. But as I said these relationships have grown, and grown and grown in spite of the devious attempts. More recently we have seen the impact of Cuba/ Guyana relations benefitting more and more Guyanese.
Let us fast forward, since I am under the guidance of Mdm. Teixeira that I have only 15 minutes, to 2006, the recent period, which showed a qualitative leap and quantum leap in the relationship between Cuba and Guyana and the benefits that, were generated. A small team was headed by President Bharat Jagdeo to Cuba, 1st -3rd February, your truly was on that team, my goodly Minister of Finance who was then Head of Budget – I think that was the term and of course our own Dr. Jennifer Westford, who was of course educated in Cuba. Many things came out of that.
Small Cuba enduring at that point, almost a 50 year blockade, was able to offer more to the Guyanese Government; more to the Guyanese President. We were able to come back with an expanded enhanced corporation in the area of health, an area which the world has recognised Cuba has always been strong in. So what we have now Mdm. Deputy Speaker and colleagues and especially the media, is a wide opportunity opening for us to create the foundation for long lasting health and well-being of this nation.
We were able to, our President Bharat Jagdeo, was able to secure places for 500 of what are now termed the Jagdeo Scholars. Among which predominantly doctors dominate. More doctors are being created in Cuba, thanks to this initiative of Castro and Jagdeo. I was at that discussion table, the negotiation table and these two men were able to adumbrate – hammer out – this agreement. I certain that there is not a single person in this room, included in the audience, included in the public gallery who has not known one of the persons who have gone to benefit or who is not related in some way to one of those beneficiaries. Do you know who will benefit more, in the future; in the wider sense? - the Guyanese nation.
Right now, we have in Guyana almost two hundred youngsters, your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, who only a few mornings ago would not have had that opportunity to develop their potential, which of course is afforded by the system that was fought for by the Jagans and the Castros when we first hammered together that relationship. When we hammered together that relationship of the rice boats, which were duplicated and attacked by certain elements, some of them still are surfacing among us sometimes. You should go and look at your own history that could be informative. The days when trading rice with Cuba was referred to as blood money, but those days are gone. Now we are speaking about doctors who bring the life blood to the health system. Some 300 will be coming back shortly and we are already preparing to go to one level higher, we are already preparing to create the cadre of specialist doctors in this country. When they would have come back as graduate doctors, when we would have populated our new hospitals, like Diamond, Lenora, Suddie, Mahaicony, Port Mourant, Lethem and Mabaruma; when we would have been sending them to these hospitals as graduate doctors, we still up to now predominately depend on foreign specialist in our main hospitals. That is fast changing.
We are now about to enter another stage. Recently, I visited Cuba for one of the several times I have been there and I was able to have good and fruitful discussions with Minister Morales, the Minister of Health of Cuba, at one of the side of our break out meetings of Cuba Salud 2012, a massive event gathering all the brains of Latin America and the Caribbean and wider afield to discuss public health issues. And what is transpiring, what is evolving, is that Guyana may very well now be able to, with the further assistance of Cuban facility, create certain enhancement programmes – post graduate programmes – in Guyana, that is in the discussion stage. However, the nuts and bolts as it were is there for that development, which will have lasting impacts on this country for the next twenty to thirty years, when those specialists would be able to deliver some of the services that we have to input or some of our people have to seek overseas. That signals the approach of the Ministry of Health and the Government of Guyana in allowing our young people to develop here and to continue contributing here, in this country. Those are some of the good things that have resulted from our steadfast solidarity and friendship with this small Caribbean country, a country that is very proud and on every opportunity proclaims itself Caribbean, not only Latin America.
I would like to refer to some of the RESOLVED clauses in the motion and to support them, to encourage not only Members of the Assembly and those gathered in the public gallery, but the media, to reflect on those RESOLVED clauses and to reflect on whence they come, two small nations coming to a point, fifty years on, if we consider the informal relations that were developed between the two parties, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in those days perennially under siege from the external forces and their internal lag dogs. Read your history.
Now we have reached the stage where we can boldly proclaim that this Assembly extends our gratitude and by extension, this nation because I have not discern, so far, a single discerning voice. This nation, through this National Assembly, extends our gratitude to our Government and people of Cuba and for the valuable assistance they have rendered. I would like to from my own little narrow point of view, emphasise, especially in the area of health and wellness, that they have rendered to the people of Guyana, while at the same time - this is the punch line - maintaining maximum momentum in their own development and overcoming significant hurdles thrown at them by very powerful sources.
Yes, there are lessons we can learn from Cuba. The unity and purpose, we must reflect on that; unity around core values we must reflect on that, both sides of the House. This is a time for reflection. As I pointed out we must never forget that deep history. I would like to remind you, for example, that the newspapers, one of the only newspapers in the English Speaking Caribbean and definitely in Guyana which perennially celebrates that anniversary. Why? Because the Cuban revolution celebrates, every year, its anniversary on the 1st January and here it is again, our newspaper, the people’s newspapers, which was born and this was how I started my intervention, which was born out of a simple, old, needing repairs press, continues to celebrate that glorious relationship, that glorious moment when on the 1st of January Cuba triumph. The forces of progress and compassion triumph over the forces of dictatorship.
As you see I have been doing a fairly good sales pitch for the peoples’ newspaper. If you are to reflect on this history you would also know this, the vendors of this newspaper in the initial years, when it would have been produced off of a press out of Cuba could not vend it freely. Mr. Nagamootoo, from across the aisle, can reflect on that, he might well even want to write on it in a future publication. The vendors used to be beaten for selling the Mirror Newspapers because it was produced, among other things, on a Cuban donated press.
So our history goes back far and our history is rich. It is rich of examples of struggles, examples of overcoming difficulties. We are proud of that relationship, we are also proud that that relationship will definitely, if we were to consider recent developments, expand and become even more fruitful because we see more and more, calls for an end to the blockade. This country, both sides of the divide, has from time to time been party to that call.
We see also widening calls for the freedom of the Cuban five. Who is the Cuban five, who is this group? This is a group of Cuban patriots based in a foreign country, dedicating their lives to protecting Cuba from terror, in other words at fighting international terrorism.
Now, to inform Mr. Nagamootoo, who seems to think that I do not know which country it is and I am afraid to talk which country it is. We are certain where they are. So what I am saying is the Cuban five have created yet another platform to demonstrate that, belief in core values sometimes creates descent in powerful countries; creates hatred for that effort.
I would like to join in supporting the families of these five Cuban heroes and join this Assembly in demanding their freedom from the point of view that they are fighting, although based not at home and fighting terrorism anywhere is something laudable. The Cuban revolution must be defended and those Cuban five must be freed.
Another controversial issue we should be looking at is the blockade and I would like to reinforce the comments from the Madam Minister of Foreign Affairs, when she called for a review, a radical review of that position. I would like to endorse the position of the Caricom countries, which says that it must go. I try to compact into a short space of time given to me by Mdm. Gail Teixeira, to give full support to this motion and at the same time to draw out your memory back to some of the history of some of the dark forces we had to fight against.
I do not want to go into the issue of the rice boat and how it was supposed to be bombed and sunk and so on, but that would stir up a different thing. We are going to do this; we are going to say this that we like the emerging unity that we are seeing around this topic. We need to consolidate that and we need indeed to fully support...
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Member, I sense that you are about to conclude. You have one more minute.
Dr. Ramsarran: I am concluding.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I am just letting you know. Proceed.
Dr. Ramsarran: Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. As they say great minds think alike. I was just about to do that.
I would like to support this motion, I would like to commend it and I particularly would like to reinforce or reiterate that we, the Members of the National Assembly, will continue to call for the removal of the unjust economic and financial blockade against Cuba and that it BE FURTHER
RESOLVED that the National Assembly reaffirms our commitment to strengthening and deepening relations between our two countries to realise the legitimate aspirations of our two peoples. Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]