Havana, CUBA – It is both an honour and a privilege for me to be in Havana attending this Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit and may I add the first Prime Minister of The Bahamas to do so in an official capacity.
President Castro, I had the privilege of visiting your beautiful country in January of this year for the CELAC Summit. In addition, some of my cabinet colleagues have also had recent exchanges with their Cuban counterparts, namely, my Ministers for Foreign Affairs & Immigration, Financial Services, Agriculture & Marine Resources, and Youth, Sports & Culture, respectively.
Speaking for myself and my delegation, it gives me great pleasure to be here once again in the same year. Thank you for having me, and for the warm hospitality that you have extended to me, my delegation, and indeed the other attendees at this important summit. In expressing my thanks as I have permit me also, Mr. President, to extend my warm personal regards and the best wishes of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to you and the entire government and people of the Republic of Cuba.
The convening of this Summit is timely because as the year 2014 comes to an end, there are a number of global issues that we, as regional heads of government, must take stock of and then develop a common pathway towards resolving.
We need to remind ourselves that CARICOM and Cuba have always been able to overcome challenges and to develop strategies for our mutual advantage. In fact, our forty-one years of diplomatic relations have been markedly fruitful as a result of functional cooperation in the areas of health, education, sports, culture, agriculture, disaster management, energy and construction.
We must continue to support each other in international fora, always providing reciprocal support for our initiatives, whether it is in advocacy for the rejection of any blockade against Cuba; support for the re-classification of middle-income economies; negotiations for a strong post-2015 agenda that favours small island developing states; support for Cuba’s leading role in the CELAC process; and support for candidacies for election or appointment to multilateral bodies.
More generally, we must remain in solidarity with each other in the ongoing quest for the betterment of our respective populations.
Mr. President, it would be remiss of me not to mention for special commendation the quite remarkable selflessness and altruism being displayed by the Government of the Republic of Cuba in the face of the still unfolding Ebola crisis in west Africa.
Indeed Cuba, despite its own challenges, has remained in the forefront of the global response to the Ebola crisis.
It is, I think, quite astonishing and altogether praiseworthy that a small developing country such as Cuba has been able to provide the world with a wide array of best-practice methodologies, as well as an impressive number of skilled doctors and other healthcare workers in the fight against Ebola.
But in some respects Cuba’s contribution in this regard should not be a matter of surprise. In fact, I am informed that, at present, there are more than fifty thousand (50,000) Cuban medical personnel working around the world providing much needed health care.
Participation in sporting and cultural events continues to provide an even playing field in which persons of varying socio-economic backgrounds can perform. Cuba’s stance as a leader in sports administration and the training of coaches has always been admired in the region. Cuba has always opened its doors to CARICOM athletes requiring more exposure. Indeed, a number of Bahamian boxers and Judo fighters have taken advantage of this opportunity.
Cuba and the members of CARICOM took part in the Inaugural World Relays that were held in The Bahamas in May 2014. My Government looks forward to Cuba’s return to The Bahamas for the Second World Relays which will be held in Nassau during the first week of May 2015.
Human capital drives economies therefore it is imperative that we invest in our people as an economic plank, thereby amplifying the genius, talent and creativity of our people.
In addition to the areas that I have mentioned, we must also continue our dialogue on facilitating joint ventures in the tourism industry, particularly in concretizing the concept of multi-destination marketing initiatives and packages. This would surely make our region more competitive with other regions in the global tourism market.
Transportation is key to national and economic development and the travel routes of both our national carriers, Bahamasair and Cubana need to be further expanded to facilitate tourism, travel and international trade.
The Bahamas, like Cuba, is also interested in seeking out new strategic partnerships for investment in renewable energy; partnerships that will facilitate access to new capital, more efficient technologies and new markets.
We have also noted with satisfaction that talks are ongoing towards the finalization of a CARICOM-Cuba Trade Agreement.
At a bilateral level, I am advised that negotiations for two Bahamas/Cuba Agreements for Cooperation in Animal Health and Plant Health are now well advanced. Our officials look forward to further consultations in these areas as well as those itemized in the proposed CARICOM/Cuba projects so that the Agreements can be finalized in the near future.
I also note with gratitude other areas of bilateral technical cooperation between Cuba and The Bahamas including: the training of language and special education teachers; access to excellent health care services, including the Operation “Miracle Eye” programme; and educational and scholarship offers as well. On behalf of the government and people of The Bahamas, I thank the Cuban educators and medical doctors for their commitment and selfless service.
Looking at where we are today, therefore, it is evident that The Republic of Cuba and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas have already come a long way in developing collaborative ties across a broad and diverse range of common endeavours.
Be assured, Mr. President, of our commitment to the relationship between our two nations as we continue to find ways to work with each other, both bilaterally and within a regional context, for our common benefit.