On December 8, 1972, four brave and independent Caribbean nations — Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago — ended the isolation of Cuba from the rest of the world by establishing diplomatic relations with the Greater of the Antilles. Thanks to this act of bravery from four small in size but great in value countries, Cuba was not alone anymore.
As stated by then president of the Republic of Cuba, Fidel Castro Ruz, during the first Cuba-Caricom Summit held in Havana on December 8, 2002, “This unquestionably brave political decision, adopted by small and newly independent countries in a climate of hostility and enormous pressures, was a fundamental step toward breaking the diplomatic and trade blockade on Cuba in the region, and a breach in the isolation imposed on Cuba through the OAS [Organization of American States].”
This year on December 8, Cuba and Jamaica proudly celebrated the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations aimed at strengthening the already excellent ties between both governments and peoples. Links between Cuba and Jamaica can be recalled since our struggles for Independence, as an important number of our distinguished compatriots like our National Hero Jose Marti, General Maximo Gomez and General Antonio Maceo found asylum and support in Jamaica and worked from here for the definitive freedom of Cuba. That’s why the name of Jamaica is frequently mentioned in our history books, and from an early age our children develop sentiments of friendship and gratitude to this sister Caribbean nation.
Cuba and Jamaica have much in common: We have the same geography, share the same roots, have waged similar struggles, and currently face common challenges. During these 45 years of intense relations much has been done for the benefit of both peoples. Diplomatic and political ties have strengthened through the permanent dialogue, different exchanges and countless visits by both Cuban and Jamaican heads of state and government officials. Concrete positive results have been achieved as part of the efforts to increase the ties of friendship and solidarity.
The Cuban Government and party, interpreting the sentiments of our people, has always been at the disposition to assist the Government of Jamaica in the noble task to increase the quality of life of its people. Of course, one cannot talk about bilateral collaboration without mentioning the fundamental contribution by former Prime Minister Michael Manley and Fidel Castro Ruz, as well as other honourable prime ministers, legislators and ministers.
There have been diverse spheres in which both governments and peoples have cooperated during these 45 years. Up to the present, Cuba and Jamaica have signed 14 collaboration agreements in different areas like health, education, construction, and for the economic and scientific-technical cooperation.
To Cuba, a Third-World country with limited resources, cooperation is not about to give what it has left, but to share what it has with those nations in need. Our Cuban collaborators came to Jamaica guided by this principle, and their selfless work is widely paid back with the brotherly love of the Jamaican people.
The hundreds of Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers that have worked and continue to work in Jamaica can be found in both urban and remote rural communities. Collaboration in the health sphere started in 1976 with 14 doctors who were placed at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, Westmoreland.
In 1991, the bilateral cooperation in the field was relaunched. Under the agreement between the Ministry of Health of Jamaica and the Ministry of Public Health of Cuba, more than 1,300 Cuban health professionals have worked in all regions of Jamaica.
On different occasions, Cuban health specialists and researchers have assisted Jamaica in different campaigns: In 2006-2007, five Cuban investigators joined the fight against malaria in Jamaica; in 2014, two Cuban lecturers from the Institute of Tropical Diseases travelled to this country to train Jamaican health care personnel in the fight against Ebola. In the same year, Cuban professionals supported Jamaicans in the strategy to treat and end the chikungunya virus.
Thousands of Jamaicans have also benefited from Operation Miracle, a noble campaign to treat all those persons from the region affected with curable eye diseases. From 2005 to 2010, Jamaica was among the countries that sent patients to receive eye surgeries in Cuba. During this period, 5,906 Jamaicans travelled to Cuba and 4,698 of them received surgeries to restore their eyesight.
On July 28, 2009, an ophthalmology centre was established in Kingston and the first Cuban Brigade arrived on January 10, 2010. Up to the present, the Operation Miracle Brigade has carried out 113,404 consultations, and 16,361 patients have received surgeries, 6,305 of them from cataracts.
At present, 194 Cuban health collaborators work in Jamaica under the Agreement for Technical Cooperation and Operation Miracle. As well as Cuban teachers, they permanently feel the sentiments of sincere gratitude from the Jamaican people and this constitutes their main engine to continue contributing to the Government’s efforts to enhance the quality of health care services in Jamaica.
Under the scholarship programme of the Government of the Republic of Cuba, 118 Jamaican students have graduated from medical sciences specialities, mostly as medical doctors. Each year, a group of Jamaican students are granted these scholarships targeted at those youth who do not have the financial resources to pay for their studies. This year, eight students were awarded this possibility. There were also eight in 2016 and seven in 2015.
Overall, and up to 2016, 640 Jamaicans have graduated in Cuba in different areas — 296 in health care specialisations; 205 in tertiary education; 77 in sports education and 14 as teachers.
Just this year, cooperation in education is celebrating its 20th anniversary. During Congress Pedagogy 1997, held in Havana, first steps were taken and a letter of intent was signed between the ministers of education of both countries. The document set the foundation for the establishment of collaboration in the field. The first Cuban teachers arrived in Jamaica in 1998 to work at primary and secondary-level educational institutions.
In 2000, an agreement was signed with the HEART Trust to have Cuban lecturers in technical centres and to also send Jamaican students to be trained in technical specialities in Cuba.
During these fruitful years, 300 Cuban teachers have worked in all regions of Jamaica, in 29 primary schools, 17 secondary schools and three universities, teaching mainly Spanish but other subjects too. Currently there are 59 Cuban teachers working with the same enthusiasm and dedication of the first day.
Both the governments of Jamaica and Cuba currently undergo efforts to take the economic-commercial relations to the same level as the political-diplomatic ties. Concrete results have been achieved with specific accords and ongoing negotiations between Cuban and Jamaican enterprises that will lead to an increase of trade exchanges benefiting the two economies.
The future ahead is one of strong bilateral/multilateral efforts and advancement as new challenges and projects are settled like the development of trade and commerce, the improvement of sea and air connectivity, the strengthening of our capacity to reduce disaster risks, the promotion of energy integration and sustainable tourism, as well as the cooperation on multi-destination tourism, among others.
Furthermore, Cuba and Jamaica will continue advancing in the project for the creation of the Regional School of Arts of the Caribbean — a noble idea proposed during the V Caricom-Cuba Summit aiming to create an arts educational centre in Jamaica at which talented Caribbean youth can have access to a high level of free artistic training.
The different struggles endured by Cuba during the years of the revolution have received the valiant and permanent defence of the Jamaican people. In our long battle to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against the people of Cuba for almost 60 years, Jamaica’s solidarity has been key at regional and multilateral fora. The Cuban people deeply treasure the fact that the Parliament of Jamaica has adopted resolutions against this cruel policy for nine consecutive years.
The Cuban people shall never forget the heartfelt mobilisation of the Jamaican people during the sad hours that followed the demise of the historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro, and the participation of a high-level delegation led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the State funeral, or the sincere sentiments of condolence extended by close friends of Cuba and Fidel, like former prime ministers P J Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller.
Much has been done during these decades of fruitful relations, and certainly much is left to be done to further strengthen these ties. Cuba commits to continue working with the Government of Jamaica and to keep on supporting its people in the various areas it currently does.
Cuba will also remain confident of the steadfast friendship and solidarity of the Jamaican Government and beloved people. The sympathy of the Jamaican people for Cuba can be felt by us all in this land and it’s among our most treasured possessions.
We can continue repeating the words of appreciation expressed by Fidel Castro during his visit to Jamaica to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, in 1998: “Our eternal gratitude for your support; our deepest thanks for the lessons we have learned here in Jamaica.”
Ines Fors Fernandez is Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Jamaica.
By Ines Fors Fernandez/Jamaica Observer