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Vision Then has led to Vision Now


by Bernard Hamilton, Manager, Risk Management, National Commercial Bank

The “Vision Now” initiative undertaken by the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the Government of Cuba is one which ought to be embraced wholeheartedly by all patriotic Vincentians. The reason is simple. Vision Now affords several persons especially the poorer class of our citizenry the opportunity to receive high quality eye care for free.

It is not unnatural however, for some persons to respond to this show of solidarity by the Cubans with some degree skepticism and reservation. After all, our people have, for decades, been fed a diet of anti-Cuban and anti-communist hysteria. {{more}}

I can recall similar sentiments of doubt and fear which greeted the Cuban offer of scholarships to its other Caribbean brothers and sisters in the early 1980’s. Back then, several regional governments were reluctant to take up the offer for fear of reprisals and “offending Washington”.

There are those who today continue to question Cuba’s motive in offering us generous assistance, without realizing that this practice of internationalism is not something new that just happened overnight or yesterday. This practice is as old as the Cuban revolution itself.

Over the years, we have grown accustomed to receiving “aid” from rich donor countries with all types of conditionalities and strings attached. So, enter Cuba with its offer of free medical assistance and suddenly, how is all of this possible for a relatively poor country one might rightly ask? up his sleeve?

The answer lies in the very nature and character of the Cuban Revolution, its political philosophy and the class interest it serves. Simply put, their philosophy is and has always been one that puts “People First”.

Cuba’s international generosity would not have been possible if a genuine Peoples Revolution had not occurred in 1959. The “Vision Now” programme, or scholarships to thousands of persons the world over, would never have been possible if the Cuban Revolution had not triumphed and survived the most criminal economic blockade ever imposed by one country against another.

Speaking of economic blockade, isn’t it the biggest of ironies that Cuba is today stretching forth its hands of generosity by offering to send hundreds of doctors to assist its brothers and sisters in the gulf states of the battered by the wrath of hurricane Katrina?

Today, Cuba offers us the most powerful example that relations among states ought not to be dictated solely by power and greed, or by the unfettered operation of the market forces, but by mutual respect and love for humanity.

Cuba’s generosity spans the entire globe.

I can recall several years ago as a student, in that beautiful country, I had the privilege to be among other students drawn from almost every conceivable nation on earth. This highlighted the fact that there were so many nationalities speaking so many different languages that communication became a nightmare. The ordeal was however short-lived as everyone quickly gained command of Spanish, which became the universal language.

Today as we commemorate 25 years since the commencement of the Cuban Scholarship programme we must conclude that we owe much to the selfless generosity of the Cuban people for the development of the human capital here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Brothers like Renwick Rose and Caspar London – just to mention two – played a key role in educating us about the truth of the Cuban Revolution and its historic significance. It was their “vision then” that contributed in no small way to what we celebrate today as “Vision Now”.

If the truth be told, all of us, past and present students of Cuba, owe a debt of gratitude to Brother Renwick “Kamara” Rose who, at great personal sacrifice, made it possible for many of us to gain access to tertiary education in Cuba. It was he who, almost single-handedly, 25 years ago, negotiated with the Cuban government to open, not just the door, but what we can describe today as the “flood gates” to educational opportunities in the heroic Republic of Jose Marti and Fidel Castro.

We ought not to forget as well, that back in the 80’s, a university scholarship was still something of a luxury reserved for a privileged few in our society. The Cuban Scholarship programme was significant in that it changed that status quo and opened up possibilities for Vincentians from all walks of life with the necessary qualifications to attend a university.

And how can we repay such generosity? When I once posed this question to a Cuban professor, he replied with all the modesty in the world, “the best reward you can give us is to return to your homeland and utilize your skills for the benefit of your country and mankind”.

This response best epitomizes the true spirit of Cuban internationalism. Our solidarity goes out to them as we say thanks for making us who we are today.