Prime minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Monday, urged Vincentians studying on scholarships in Cuba to “continue to be strong and do your work as you best as you can in all the circumstances” in the face of the worsening economic crisis there.
“The students, from the reports I have received, are bearing whatever discomforts and hardships with equanimity. Doesn’t mean you would enjoy a discomfort but they don’t want to throw in their towel,” Gonsalves said at a press conference in Kingstown.
He urged Vincentian students in Cuba to “do your work as you best as you can in all the circumstances and we are monitoring the situation with the Cuban government and very much so with our ambassador”.
The prime minister dismissed a suggestion that Kingstown should ferry food to its nationals in Cuba.
“How can we go and take food and take it to Cuba, as some unthinking persons are asking, to feed Vincentian students? What about the Cuban students, what about the other nationalities? What about the Cuban people themselves?” Gonsalves said.
“When the difficulties come, we have to take the rough with the smooth. And I know families, in some individual ways, are trying to help, but this is a temporary difficulty. I ‘m told it is nowhere as challenging as those persons who were educated in what is called the special period when the Soviet Union collapsed…”
In September, a Vincentian scholarship recipient in Cuba sent iWitness News a commentary on the situation in the communist nation as the United States stepped up their sanctions.
“The economic situation in Cuba has been deteriorating for quite some time and, sadly, continues to worsen, and Cuba has now entered what is known as the second ‘special period’,” said the student who did not want their identity known.
The student added: This “period” affects the availability and prices of food products throughout the island. These shortages, which not only affect the locals, have a great deal of reverberations on the foreign demographic, most notably those of us studying, as we purchase goods in local supermarkets, which are currently understocked and even empty.”
Speaking at a press conference in Kingstown on Monday, Gonsalves said that his government has been in touch with its Ambassador in Havana, Ellsworth John.
“You know, I would just like if people would, in relation to Cuba, some people, if you would just drop your bitterness and shed what relatively useless ideological antipathy which you have to the Cuban government and people,” the prime minister said.
He said Cuba has trained, free of charge, hundreds of Vincentians, contributed to the Argyle International Airport, has a permanent mission at the hospital in SVG, and accommodate Vincentians who need specialist tertiary health care at rates that are lower than in Barbados, Trinidad or the United States.
Gonsalves said Cuba made thousands of people in SVG “see better physically and one or two who were basically blind, were made to see under the “Vision Now” under which persons were transported to Cuba for free eye care.
“You mean to tell me that because there is now a difficulty in Cuba, you’re using this as an opportunity to attack Cuba and the Cuban people and the Cuban government and not make the criticism at those who are breaking international law by having a blockade around Cuba, continuing this blockade, putting pressure on Venezuela where Venezuela can’t send the fuel to Cuba because they are sanctioning the ships?” the prime minister said.
“Those are the people [to] whom the critical comments should be directed. I am very sympathetic, clearly, to the Cuban people for this essential economic war, which is waged against them by the most powerful country in the world. It’s a sin to make people suffer like that. A sin!” the prime minister said.
He said that Cuba enjoys the support of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I know that the whole country, that we are also very sympathetic and touched, and it pains us that the students who are there have to endure hardship too.”
He said the Cuban government give scholarships recipients their tuition, as well as free board and lodging and a little stipend.
“But we give them annually EC$5,000 because – I mean I will tell you, the number of times Fidel [Castro] asked me why yo’ don’t withdraw this money, the students are so much better off and some of them flaunting it in the communities and where working people working to send them and give them free education.
“And so I always got to explain to Fidel the context and how we have to address this. He never really understood it – why you have to give additional money to them.”
Gonsalves said he had read and heard all kinds of suggestions about what must be done for the Vincentian students in Cuba.