Cuba Has Strong Presence in the Country

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Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with Cuba dates back to 1974 when the Cuban Embassy was opened in Lagos. A bilateral commission for cooperation was also established in 1984 and from that period the two countries have been working together in many areas, mainly in education, health, culture and sports. Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria Hugo Ramos Milanes in this interview gives further insight into the significance of relations between the two countries and other issues. Excerpts:

What is the current state of relations between Nigeria and Cuba?

We respect this relationship because practically 50% of Cubans are descendants of Africa and most of them came from West Africa and mainly from Nigeria. Two of the most important cultural centers in Havana are the Africa House and the Museum of Yoruba Association. We have developed cooperation in education, and we have about 165 Nigerians who graduated from Cuba. Out of this figure 100 are medical doctors. Some of them are now studying a second specialty, e.g. Cardiology, Gynecology and Neurosurgery. Right now we have 49 Nigerian students, 31 of them are studying Medicine, six are studying sports, and 12 are in different universities studying Engineering.

What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Cuba?

Unfortunately we are far from each other, the distance between Nigeria and Cuba is wide, we have the huge Atlantic Ocean between us, and that will cost both countries huge amount on shipping. In the past three years the volume of trade between the two countries was $200,000. This was specifically in petroleum and medical products.

The cooperation between the two countries has significantly better results than trade and it amount to millions of dollars annually. For example, Cuba has helped to develop an ultra modern eye clinic in Ekiti State. We have the technology to develop that hospital. Also, a medical team was there for about one year offering medical assistance and at the same time training Nigerians to develop their medical profession. The hospital is still giving assistance services to the Ekiti population. In Rivers State since last year we have been developing a program aimed to fight malaria. They have been working with a group of Cuban technicians who are applying Cuban biological products that kill mosquito in its larva phase. According to local sanitary authorities the program is going well and it has helped to reduce illness and mortality rate. I am aware that River State has the intention to expand the program for two years. I have also been informed that the Federal Ministry of Health is considering the possibility of extending this program to other Nigerians states, mainly in the South region. We have produced in Cuba over 100 Nigerian medical doctors and if you are to convert this figure in currency it may amount to about $10 million as a Cuban contribution to Nigeria. But now we have 49 Nigerian students and for them to graduate it will cost about $ 3million, because most of them are studying medicine. Recently, I received some government officials from Osun, Taraba and Borno States who have the intention to agree with Cuba on different programs of cooperation in education, health and sports.

We have a bilateral agreement signed in 1984 for the Bilateral Commission we have also celebrated different bilateral sessions in these years we have a mutual understanding between both governments to extend cooperation and bilateral trade. We have that commitment, it is just to seat down on a round table and decide priorities and how to develop the different goals of cooperation. I hope that in a few months we will conclude this agreement. Last year, Nigeria and Cuba signed a Protocol for the Cultural Exchange and Cooperation. Recently, I also held a meeting with the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation. He has the commitment to deepen the bilateral relation. We are considering the performance of cultural representations from Cuba to Nigeria and vice versa. Both countries are considering new agreements for cooperation on radio and TV for scientific research.

Cuba has a strong medical mission in Gambia, how can Nigeria also benefit from this arrangement?

We had in past years Cuban medical doctors working in Nigeria. Probably in these recent years the priority for the Nigerian government had been the graduation of medical doctors in Cuba. It is our tradition to cooperate with developing countries in training doctors, over 100,000 Doctors from 70 countries around the world have graduated in Cuba. We also have about 77,000 specialists around the world in a bilateral agreement of cooperation, among these specialists, 37,000 are working in health and from them 18,000 are medical doctors. Nowadays we have in Cuban universities 26,000 young students from 120 different countries and among them 19,000 are studying medicine in the International University for Medicine in Havana and other Cuban universities. We have also Cuban Professors working in Universities of Medicine in different countries like Venezuela, Angola and Guinea-Bissau and so many African countries. Nigeria is not excluded from that kind of program of cooperation, but we don’t have any request from the Federal Government. Cuban authorities are considering special requests in health cooperation from different Nigerian states.

In days back, Nigeria had relied heavily on Cuba in training her athletes particularly in boxing but this seems to have stopped.

Really no. In Cross River State we have two Cuban coaches in boxing; they have been working there for more than a year. I remember very well that in 2006, Nigeria sent a huge delegation of athletes to Cuba for training in several sports, last year we received the same request, unfortunately it was cancelled in the last minute by force majeure. I hope we can offer the Nigerian athletes the possibility to train in Cuba, where the weather conditions are quite similar to Nigeria. I must say that two Cuban specialists are already in Osun State training local people. I am also aware that the sport authorities in Cross-River State are considering renewing a bilateral agreement with the Cuban Sport Ministry.

Cuba has in recent times tried to modify her economy to conform to global demands but it seems the process is slow, what final destination is the economic reform headed?

The main goal of recent reforms taking place in Cuba is to have an economy more efficient, an economy capable of supporting development. To achieve that, we need to modernize our economy taking into consideration the international economic crisis that is affecting us too and also to consider the national realities.

From last year till now we have been organizing foreign and national investment reforms, trying to give priorities to sectors that are capable of recovery in short time and at the same time that can hold a wider economic area. For example, tourism, that helps to develop agriculture, it will entail producing more food to tourist, but also it will develop industry, because in a hotel you need practically everything that industries can produce.

Other priorities are mining, oil and gas production, petrochemical and so forth. In general it has very special priority all the investment in production capable of substituting imports or creating new goods for exportation and earnings. Last year we produced the “Economy guidelines for the Cuban Government”, the aim of this document is to dictate the main goals of the Cuban economy transformation in the next five years, and it is a document that is a product of popular consultation.

This is a document that has been agreed by the Congress of the Party and parliament; most of the population supports it, so it is a very important instrument that we have to guide the economy in the next five years. What is also very important is that we decided the mechanisms of control over the implementation of this document, because the program itself cannot produces the necessary changes, we have to work hard, the government and the parliament. Both bodies have a mechanism on how this achievement will be conceived and work.

Some citizens recently protested what they describe as the slow pace of economy reform, the first of its kind since the Revolution, what do you think this means for the Cuban government?

What we are facing now is a very important economic reform, because the result of the reforms will support the continuation of the revolution, so we are working with the future of the revolution, but it is not the first economic reform we have done, the first one was the victory of the revolution in 1959. At that time we made the nationalization of North Americans transnational, they were the owners of everything in Cuba, they held on to power, land, telephone and water, sugar and so many industries. The second reform was imposed by the economic blockade from the United States; we needed to find new markets and traders. We built our economy based on relations with socialist countries and with their technology because the economic blockade made impossible for us to buy anything from US.

In the 90s, the collapse of socialism was practically over the table, we did another economic reform trying to escape from that collapse. Of course when socialism went down, we had to change practically everything again, we lost our traditional market with no possibility of buying spare parts for the socialist technologies we have, so we had to put them away and then to buy new western technologies. We moved from a situation in which Cuba was one of the most important world producers of sugar, to a country based in tourism and mining industry.

Talking about the protest, we have two groups, those who are against any change or are afraid of changes in general, it can be a normal reaction, but also those who are in opposition, who do not want socialism, fortunately they are minority. While there are some that want the transformation with a higher speed but I think we are doing things in the right way, you cannot change from one night to the other, we need consensus, and we need people to believe in what we are doing. For example one of the problems we have to solve is subsidy; we have so many good services in Cuba but with a high quantity of subsidy.


In : Politics

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