Interview with Caribbean Leader: When the World Calls, Cuba Responds
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a small nation formed by an archipelago in the Lesser Antilles chain of islands in the Caribbean, north of Venezuela and the island of Grenada. It consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two-thirds of the Grenadines extending south. Its territory includes just 389 square kilometers and the country has 102,918 inhabitants. Its capital and most populated city is Kingstown, located on the island of Saint Vincent.
Christopher Columbus named the main island Saint Vincent, as he landed there on this saint’s feast day, January22, in the year 1498. The name of the Grenadines refers to the Spanish city of Granada, but the diminutive was used to differentiate these small islands from the main island of the same name. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the indigenous peoples who inhabited the island of St. Vincent called it Youloumain, after Youlouca, the spirit of the rainbow that they believed inhabited the island.
The Caribbean nation gained independence from Britain on October 27, 1979. It is a parliamentary democracy under constitutional monarchy and is part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and is represented on the island by a Governor General, a position with mostly ceremonial functions. Control of the government rests with the Prime Minister and his or her cabinet.
The nation’s highest peak is the La Soufrière volcano (1,234 meters above sea level), located on the island of St. Vincent. In 1902, the volcano erupted killing 2,000 people. In April 1979, it erupted again and while no one was killed, thousands were evacuated and there was widespread agricultural damage.
In recent years the country has regained prominence as a full member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the United Nations (UN), among other international organizations.
Granma spoke to the honorable Jomo Sanga Thomas, speaker of the House of Assembly (parliament) of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, during a recent visit to Cuba.
What is your assessment of this visit to Cuba? Has it met your expectations?
The visit has been very good. We have met with various officials. I actually traveled to Havana primarily to offer a talk on reparations or compensation that the former European colonial powers owe the Caribbean for damages caused by the slave trade. By all indications, this visit has been well received.
I met with representatives of the Caribbean and Latin America office of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), I had the opportunity to meet with Ana María Mari Machado, vice president of the National Assembly of People’s Power and with Fernando González, one of the Cuban Five unjustly imprisoned in the U.S., who today is vice president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).
All of these meetings were very productive. At the meeting with PCC officials we were updated on the preparations for the upcoming Seventh Party Congress. In fact we also learned of some of the important topics to be discussed at this gathering.
The vice president of the National Assembly of People’s Power also referred to these same issues, as well as the impact of the visit to the island by U.S. President Barack Obama.
I found it very interesting to hear from them all about the challenges facing Cuba and witness the confidence they demonstrate to face these challenges.
The cooperation between Cuba and St. Vincent & the Grenadines is multifaceted. What’s your view of bilateral cooperation and its impact on the socio-economic development of your country?
Relations between Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are very good. In fact, the solidarity and commitment of Cuba to my country date back to before we were an independent nation.
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines we have a very active volcano and I will never forget its last eruption, as it happened in 1979, the day of my birthday, that is on April 30, 1979, and at that time we were not yet independent.
However, just a few says afterwards, the Cuban leadership, under Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, sent a ship of medicine and humanitarian aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Official diplomatic relations were established under then Prime Minster James Mitchell, on May 26, 1992, and these ties have been maintained in the interests of the development of our country under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves.
As you rightly said, these bilateral relations are multifaceted, they cover many areas; indeed Cuba played a very important role in the restoration of the vision of many Vincentians with the Operation Miracle program in early 2005.
In fact, under this project hundreds of our citizens traveled to Cuba to receive ophthalmologic treatment to regain their vision.
There are a lot of our people who continue to come to Cuba to take advantage of the excellent medical facilities in this country.
Indeed our ambassador to the island, Dexter Rose, was trained as a journalist in Cuba in the mid-80s.
Many of the most important leaders in our country studied here and hundreds of my compatriots have been trained in Cuba in various fields such as medicine.
In the early days of Prime Minister Gonsalves’ term in office, Havana sent many nurses to St. Vincent.
Also the most important infrastructure project in the history of our country, the construction of the Argyle International Airport, is nearing completion and the project could not have been undertaken had it not been for the tremendous assistance offered by Cuba and Venezuela.
The cooperation provided by Cuba to St. Vincent and the Grenadines simply testifies to the fact that when the world calls, Cuba responds.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines, along with all the Caribbean islands, has always been opposed to U.S. policies of isolation against Cuba…
InSt. Vincent and the Grenadines, there has always been support for the Cuban Revolution. In 1978, we created the St. Vincent & the Grenadines – Cuba Friendship Society and the president of this organization wasRenwick Rose, the older brother of our ambassador here.
And ever since our Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves took charge of the country, every year we have gone to the United Nations General Assembly to offer our vote in favor of ending the unjust U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba.
Therefore we have been very vocal in asserting that this isolation must cease.
What has the leadership of Prime Minister Ralph E. Gonsalves and the Unity Labour Party meant for your country?
Ralph E. Gonsalves is without doubt one of the most important political personalities of the past 50 years in our country. He has a long history of struggle and has always assumed very revolutionary and forceful positions on a range of issues.
He is an energetic anti-imperialist and has also led a struggle against colonialism. In addition, he is an advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement, in favor of South-South cooperation and the unity of the Caribbean, and calls for Europe to pay reparations owed to our countries for damages caused by the slave trade.
His significance will not fade, even when he is no longer on the country’s political scene.
U.S. imperialism and the oligarchies of Latin America and the Caribbean are seeking a return to power of conservative forces in the region, exemplified in the vicious attacks against the progressive governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Brazil. In your experience, what are the challenges facing the Latin American and Caribbean progressive left in order to defeat these attempts?
You’re right, there is a major conservative onslaught. Every time there is a revolution, the counterrevolution always arises, and in fact when the so-called real socialism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union collapsed, the end of history was proclaimed, a notion formulated by right wing intellectual, Francis Fukuyama.
But by December 1999, we witnessed the massive protests of thousands of people against neoliberal policies, during the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle, in the U.S.
The social forces for change and the defense of popular gains have become an important driving force.
Also in 1999, the Bolivarian Revolution led by President Hugo Chávez emerged, later came President Evo Morales in Bolivia, President Rafael Correa in Ecuador, the governments of Tabaré Vazquez and José Mujica in Uruguay, of President Luiz Inacio Lula in Brasil, of Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina. But there will always be this counterrevolutionary resistance to progressive movements.
The death of President Chávez was also a very heavy blow and a moment of frustration.
Imperialism is powerful and never rests, it will always pursue its aims of domination, one way or another. We have to be alert.
And we cannot be under any illusions, the visit by President Barack Obama to Cuba is part of this movement of conservative restoration. Obama said he had come to Cuba to bury the last remnants of the so-called Cold War, but he is attempting to try out a new tactic, to ensure neoliberal and imperialist ideas take root in the Cuban population. He is an agent of subversion and counterrevolution and the Cuban Revolution has to be aware of this and in fact I know you are.
What does the Cuban Revolution represent for you personally?
Cuba is an important example. I always tell the Cuban ambassador in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that I am a Cuban, because I recognize the profound importance of the Cuban Revolution for the world.
And even if one does not agree with all Cuban socialist ideas, the fact is that the Cuban Revolution has accomplished much and as the guerrilla Commander Ernesto Che Guevara said, what they fear is the example.
Reactionary forces fear the example of Cuba and its Revolution, which I embrace and love, as throughout my entire life I have been a revolutionary.