It is indeed a great honour to speak on behalf of the Government and the people of St. Kitts and Nevis to express warm greetings to the Government and the people of Cuba on the celebration of CARICOM-CUBA day, today December 8th . This auspicious occasion signifies forty four (44) years of friendship between CARICOM and Cuba demonstrated through strong fraternal bond, partnership and collaboration.

This occasion comes on the heels of the recent passing of the honourable and exceptional icon and visionary, Former Cuban President, Fidel Castro Ruz.

From the outset, permit me to publicly extend, on behalf of the Government and people of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, and on my own behalf, sincere condolences to the Government and people of Cuba and its people for their great loss in the person of former President Fidel Castro. The late President Fidel was influential in the establishment of diplomatic relations between the first four independent countries of CARICOM, namely Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago in 1972. This historic and courageous stance was consummated during the height of the Cold War producing an unforgettable chapter in relations between the region and Cuba. On the celebration of the thirtieth (30th)Anniversary, with the signing of the Havana Declaration by the CARICOM heads of Government and their Cuban counterpart in December 2002, CARICOM-Cuba Day was instituted. This act of solidarity by these States and the ardour for fundamental for regional unity by late Former President, Fidel Castro, contributed immensely to the role which Cuba now plays in the Caribbean region.

That meeting paved a way for other Caribbean and Latin American states, facilitating myriads of opportunities for countries to work with Cuba in trade and economic linkages, joint promotions, strategic alliances and negotiations. Today, Cuba has extended its hemispheric diplomatic footprint not only across the region but throughout the world.

The Caribbean community occupies a central role in Cuba’s Foreign Policy. Since 1972, the relationship between Cuba and CARICOM member states has grown and was demonstrated in December 2005, when Cuba under the leadership of the late Former President Castro agreed to deepen their relations in the areas of socio-economic and political cooperation in addition to medical care assistance. This approach afforded Cuba the opportunity to be the only nation to have embassies located in all independent countries of the Caribbean Community. Cuba, aware of socio-economic issues with which the region was plagued, offered services and its assistance to curb these challenges by way of numerous scholarship grants and training opportunities in areas of Disaster Management, education, tourism development, culture and heritage, sports, health, energy, agriculture and others.

Cuba’s revolutionary Health Care system is model for the region and World with major medical progress in treatments for cancer, diabetic foot ulcers and for advanced head and neck tumors. Permit me to also specifically mention Cuba’s success of becoming the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV and Syphilis.

We also recognize Cuba’s dedication and commitment to our states, permitting a specific number of cancer patients from the CARICOM region to access free cancer treatment once there. Additionally, the provision of Cuban Doctors and specialty nurses as well as educational experts to CARICOM countries has been invaluable. Furthermore, we are also reminded of the Joint health program between Cuba and Venezuela and the CARICOM, named, the “Miracle Eye Mission”. This initiative generated the opening of several Ophthalmology Centres fitted with state of the art equipment throughout the CARICOM region. Cuba is among the few countries in the Western Hemisphere that have so far prevented significant spread of the Zika virus which is blamed for birth defects in thousands of children, and hosted the first Pan
American Health Organization (PAHO) meeting on Zika, with experts and health authorities from across the Americas in Havana, in October 2016, in order to address regional challenges regarding this issue.

Cuba and CARICOM interact in various multilateral fora specifically in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Fidel’s vision and legacy has been fundamental in the economic and social development of our CARICOM nations. His advocacy for regional integration and social servitude concentrating on the reduction of poverty, social exclusion and inequality, urged him to join with his long time friend and partner, Venezuela’s late President, Hugo Chavez, to create the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas – People’s Trade Treaty or (ALBA-TCP) in December 2004, whose birth implemented social programs, provided technical assistance to our nations, produced the Petro-Caribe Agreement and the foundational summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Caracas, seven years later. The practice of solidarity as a main philosophy in Cuba’s foreign policy has been instrumental as an implementation mechanism and has supported Cuba’s international insertion in the International Sphere.

Cuba, as a Small Island Developing State has also experienced major economic crises. However, we continue to promote our objectives, based on our common interests, in international fora. In 1962, Cuba was expelled from the Organization of American States (OAS). This marked a historic breaking point for Cuba, Latin America and the Caribbean and that is why we supported the re-institution of Cuba into this august body in 2009.

Annually, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis as a friend of Cuba always votes in favour of the resolution which calls for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. It is however pivotal to note that although the U.S. has always opposed said resolution, this year for the first time, it manifested some reluctance in light of its rapprochement with Cuba, and abstained. The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis applauds this notable decision although a “small step and continues to call for the complete end of the embargo which has resulted in considerable suffering for our Cuban brothers and sisters. We welcome the thawing of a 50 year plus embattled relationship through the commencement of direct flights from the US to Cuba, the ease of US sanctions as well as the landmarked official visit of President Obama to Cuba earlier this year. These are not only seen as positive steps in a growing détente, but illustrates receptivity to opportunities and ideas that in the long run, will be valuable to Cuban people.

It is also quite astonishing to witness the positive changes that have occurred during the past year in Cuba’s policies on agriculture, the private sector and taxes.

This year, St Kitts and Nevis and Cuba celebrated twenty (21) years of fruitful relations and the establishment of diplomatic ties.

The Government of St. Kitts and Nevis holds in highest regard its relationship with the people and the Government of the Republic of Cuba. St. Kitts and Nevis has not only benefitted through the multilateral CARICOM-CUBA arrangement, but also bilaterally. We admire and acknowledge with deep appreciation, the influential leadership of the late Former President, Fidel Castro Ruz and his vision of building camaraderie. The wide range of cooperation programmes, scholarships and technical assistance offered by the Cuban Government has yielded results for our people and the Federation.

Currently, twenty-one (21) students are pursuing studies in Cuba and to date a total of over one hundred (100) students have graduated from Cuban institutions and have embarked on careers that have positively impacted every facet of our society especially in education, health, agriculture, and even the private sector. The level of commitment of the Government of Cuba to contribute to capacity building and human resource development was once again demonstrated this academic year thru the offer of ten (10) scholarships in the areas of Medicine, Civil Aviation, Health Technology and Medical Specialties in the form of Postgraduate scholarships.

We are equally grateful for the invaluable service of the Cuban medical practitioners who are currently deployed in our health institutions in the Federation.

Today December 8 th , therefore is a day to celebrate fruitful relationships, the strengthening of ties, and the importance of cordial and productive relations. It is also a day to reflect and honour the great legacy of El Comandante (Pronounced Commandantay) and Jefe (Pronounced Hay Fay), the late former President, Fidel Castro Ruz. The Caribbean-Cuba relationship exemplifies the benefits of working towards fraternity, peace and prosperity and demonstrates true Caribbean unity. The St. Kitts and Nevis – Cuba relations represent no less.

On behalf of the citizens and the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, I would like to thank the Government and the people of the Republic of Cuba for its continued support and interaction, and wish all a happy and united CARICOM-Cuba day.