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Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Guyana-Cuba relations and the U.S.

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo’s recent visit to Cuba has once more raised a sensitive issue: would Guyana’s enhanced relations with Cuba rupture its relations with the U.S.?

While many Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries also have good relations with Cuba, Guyana, which established diplomatic relations since 1972, has benefited more from aid from Cuba than any other member of the community.

The issue of whether Guyana’s closer ties with Cuba would make the West (read the U.S.) uncomfortable was raised during a press conference President Jagdeo held here on Saturday after his return from an official visit to Cuba.

Mr Jagdeo’s response was: “I don’t know if the West would be uncomfortable with the initiative, but I have an obligation to my people to provide them with better health care and I will do whatever it takes to provide them with that health care”.

President Jagdeo was unequivocal in stressing that his encounter with President Fidel Castro did not feature politics. “We respect each other. We share many views. We have many common views on how our countries should develop but our countries are different and the model practiced in Cuba is different from the model practiced in Guyana. You already know where I want to take this country and that includes private capital playing a very important part”.

The two countries have had 30-odd years of mutual relationship which includes co-operation under the Guyana/Cuba Joint Commission, and Guyana has benefited significantly from its relations with Cuba.

Through the President’s visit, the Cuban Government has offered an additional 715 scholarships for Guyanese to study medicine in Cuba over the next five years and 250 scholarships in the disciplines of agriculture and engineering.

An ophthalmology centre will be established in Guyana and four diagnostic and treatment centres for which Cuba will provide the personnel and Guyana will purchase the US$1.2M in equipment.

Additionally, the Cuban Government will send 20 more medical doctors. There is already a Cuban medical brigade of 40 in Guyana.

Further, at the request of President Jagdeo, the Cuban Government is considering providing instructors to train 200 Medexes and 2,000 nurses.

More recently, Guyana has been benefiting from an eye-care programme through which hundreds of Guyanese have received free eye surgery in Cuba.

Additionally, more than 300 Guyanese students have already received scholarships to study various disciplines in Cuba.

There is also the possibility of Cuba providing technical help for our sugar industry and in the area of non-fossil energy.

It is known that succeeding American administrations are suspicious of countries developing a close relation with Cuba.

But the world is changing. The Cold War is over. Guyana needs substantial aid to develop and Cuba is helping.

It is clear that President Castro is not interested in making Guyana a satellite. He sincerely wants to help a poor sister country.

In defending his sovereign right to seek external help, President Jagdeo has asserted that his relationship with Cuba is based on “what I think is best for my people…It would provide them with better health care. It would provide many of the poor young people with a chance to become doctors, engineers, professionals in the agricultural sector and fulfill their dreams.”

These are legitimate aspirations over which no one should have any misgivings.

(Guyana Chronicle)