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How can we ever repay such kindness?

How can we ever repay such kindness?


It is extremely difficult, well-nigh impossible to quantify the value of the sacrificial assistance of the Socialist Republic of Cuba to St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past quarter century. No where is this assistance more manifest than in the granting of university scholarships to our young people since September 1980. Since the first three students left here for Cuba then, Cuba’s contribution can be measured not just by the number of students trained, but moreso by the quality of those students.{{more}}

The classes of the eighties today provide SVG with a solid core of dedicated professionals, second to none who are making magnificent contributions to Vincentian social and economic development in their respective fields. Those of the nineties are adding to, solidifying and expanding that core.

Regrettably, we have not been as appreciative as we should. Partly of this is grounded in the clouds of negative propaganda which has always surrounded SVG-Cuba co-operation. It has not been easy to arrive at such co-operation. When on July 26, 1976, the first SVG-Cuba Friendship Society was launched at the Peace Memorial Hall, those of the visionaries who advocated relations with our Caribbean neighbour had to endure much hostility, in the press and in their personal lives.

Those who travelled to Cuba faced harassment at the airport and in their daily activities. The Cuban newspaper Granma was then on the barred list and friends of Cuba were charged for possession of what was then termed “Seditious Literature.”

Yet those who stood firm in their convictions did not flinch. Efforts were made by Yulimo (one of the forerunners of the United People’s Movement) and by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, then a lecturer at UWI, Cave Hill, to get the then government of SVG to engage in unofficial discussions with Cuban officials who were offering technical, medical, sporting and educational assistance. This was spurned. The efforts continued, trade between our countries being one such target area. The first breakthrough came on Nov. 4, 1977, when an enlightened local capitalist, Mr. O’Neil ‘Biscuit’ McIntosh, was bold enough to import a shipment of Cuban cement which arrived on the Puerto de Vita.

In 1978, after visits to Cuba by Yulimo leaders, a delegation of youths and students visited Cuba for the World Festival of Youth and Students, opening their eyes to another way of life. The clamour for relations with Cuba strengthened. Then, following the Soufriere volcanic eruption of April 1979, assistance was again offered from Cuba. The Cato government would not accept medical supplies and personnel but faced with criticism, finally accepted a shipment of condensed milk. Another breach in the wall of isolation.

One year later, after Cuba offered 62 university scholarships to several Eastern Caribbean countries and their governments balked, progressive parties and movements like Yulimo stepped in to provide eager youths with the opportunity for tertiary education. The rest is now history. It has been a long, hard, uphill struggle. Our students have had to endure very trying and testing conditions, not always conducive to study. I salute all those who had the courage and foresight to brave it out and for their sacrifice.

But when we say sacrifice, think of what sacrifice it has meant for the Cuban people, the many comforts they have had to forgo to give other people a chance to develop. Think of the millions from a country not rich, facing a criminal economic embargo, which has gone into our development process.

Think of the doctors and nurses, the VISION NOW programme. And think of what we have given in return. Bad mouth, propaganda, siding with Cuba’s enemies who will never make such sacrifices to help us. Have we ever as a NATION held a THANK YOU rally for Cuba? How can we ever repay such selfless acts of solidarity? Rather, we ask questions about what Cuba wants from us.

On the 25th anniversary of the first Scholarship Programme, I issue a call to all who have benefitted from Cuba’s assistance – students, parents, the government, the entire society- to let us next month organize a proper show of our appreciation, to invite our Cuban brothers and sisters to join us and to cement our bonds of friendship and solidarity. It is the least we can do. Will we?