Cuba’s Significance To The Bahamas And The Region
Dr. Kevin Alcena
Cuba and Venezuela have started a benevolent gesture unprecedented in the Caribbean history and testimonies from various persons and governments in the Caribbean region vindicate the good intentions of these two nations, particularly Cuba: a nation that has dedicated it vital resources to provide assistance to every developing nation around the world with greater focus in the Caribbean countries. These contributions demonstrate the genuineness of President Fidel Castro’s philanthropism.
In Guyana, more than 2,000 Guyanese citizens have received free eye care in Cuba in the past two months according Guyanese Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy, in addition to the more 1,400 patients that returned from the Cuba since mid-July treated with respect to cataracts, and damaged retinas.
Furthermore, over 5,000 people from 10 countries within the Caribbean and there are many more whose dream of been treated of their medical condition they have been suffering for years without their national government assistance or any form of assistance from wealthy Western nations. According to the Guyanese Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy, "if people had to go to a private doctor for the same treatment, it could cost up to US$2,000 (euro1,646) each." This is just a conservative estimate when one compares how much it cost to perform eye surgeries in the United States or in the Bahamas.
Interestingly, President Fidel Castro’s Cuba provides the patients with free medicine for post-surgery treatment when they return to Guyana. Relatives are allowed to travel free of charge with elderly and blind patients to Cuba for treatment at no cost to the patients and without the usual officialdom involved in traveling to most developed countries.
The story is the same in Belize where thousands are been treated for various eye ailment. Mr. Phillipa Rubio from George Ville is one of 48 Belizeans who returned form Cuba today after receiving specialized eye care - free of cost from the Cuban government and was delighted to be cured for eye ailment which he has suffered for decades without help from any source. A Belizean, Jose Luis Baeza who had cataract for more than 20 years was ecstatic to enjoy the benevolence of the President Fidel Castro’s initiative
Belizean Minister of Health, Vildo Marin in response to the magnificent assistance from Cuba, called all Belizeans to advantage of the initiative: "I'm encouraging all Belizeans to take advantage of this opportunity for them to go. As a matter of fact there's a lady I spoke to just now that says she didn't know she had breast cancer and she didn't only get her cataract operated but also the breast tumor was also operated on. I think this is really a miracle project."
Many persons from across the Caribbean are traveling to Cuba to seek assistance free of charge from the program and the testimony continues. These efforts are in addition to the thousands of Cuban medical doctors and nurses in various Caribbean countries providing other free medical services to indigent people across the region; in addition to various numbers of scholarships to Caribbean countries citizen to be trained free of charge in various professional areas. So far, more than 1,000 Caribbean students have scholarships to study at Cuban universities. This is the foundation of the concept of Caribbean brotherhood and the social contract of human interrelatedness and interdependence, in which nations with the expertise and resources provides help to those who do not have the means through peaceful and mutual cooperation.
The Cuba effort in conjunction with the Venezuelan government support is transforming the Caribbean initiative to alerts the citizens of the region that someone cares. The recent initiative also by the Venezuelan government that has resulted in the signing of the agreements with 13 Caribbean countries to provide them with oil under favourable financial conditions is a laudable and invaluable contribution to national and regional development. This is unmatched in the region.
It is vital that the Bahamas continues to avail themselves of these opportunities to provide medical health to the citizens who cannot afford it. The Bahamas government has responded very well in accepting the eye clinic initiative and the people are grateful for the opportunity. So far, over 800 Bahamian have been examined by the Cuba doctors and over 200 are suffering various eye diseases that needed surgeries in Cuba at no cost to the patients. Cuban doctors have visited various Island locations to attend to patients who do no have the means to come to New Providence. They have been to Abaco, Eleuthra, Harbour Island, Andros and Exuma. The Bahamas must understand that notwithstanding the economic embargo by the United States, trading between Cuba and most Caribbean countries.
It is on record that so far since the eye clinic initiative started by Cuba and joint effort with Venezuela, over 9,779 patients across Caribbean have been operated on and have fully recovered, from diseases such as Cataract, Ptosis, Pterigium, Estrabismus, Myopia, Retinosis Pigmentaria, Retinopatia Diabetica, Glaucoma and other eye infestions.
In respect to trade and economic relationships, the Cuban government is demonstrating great flexibility in inviting other Caribbean nation to trading partnership that is benefit to both Cuba and the region. This is evident in the case of Trinidad and Tobago. According to Trinidad and Tobago’s Trade Minister Ken Valley, statistics show that there had been a growing trade between Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago since 2000, valued at TT$529,000 with exports to Cuba were valued at $81 million. In 2002 imports from Cuba were $1.3 million while exports to Cuba were $78 million; in 2003, imports- $1.8 million; exports — $81.6 million; 2004, imports — $12.1 million; exports- $109.8 million. Valley stated that between January to August of this year Trinidad and Tobago imported $556,600 worth of goods from Cuba, while it exported $83 million worth of goods.
This represents significant trade opportunities for both countries, which the Bahamas will also benefit if the government continues on the path it is going right now in the development of strategic relationship with Cuba. Hence, it is commendable that the Bahamas will officially open its Embassy in Havana later this year.
All Caribbean must understand that allowing the US to continue to dictate their economic and trading policies in relation to Cuba only creates disadvantages to the region. Hence, Trinidad and Tobago’s Trade Minister Ken Valley offered that if the region can unite in trading relationship with Cuba, "it would diffuse the US argument that it (Cuba) is a threat to the region and will mark the beginning of a new relationship between US/Cuba." according to the Minister, "Marginalizing Cuba would be tantamount to poor judgment, and in the context of the new geography of terrorism, this will in fact provide an advantage to terrorists. Hence, "…accepting Cuba as a partner in dialogue would not only advance the regional and hemispheric security but could potentially act as a catalyst for overall change in US/Cuba relations."