By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THIS year marks 45 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Bahamas.
Cuban Ambassador to the Bahamas Ismara Vargas Walter highlighted the achievement during her remarks to the Rotary Club of East Nassau yesterday.
Under the theme “The Meaning of Cooperation Between Two Small Nations: Cuba and the Bahamas”, Ms Vargas noted these two countries began cooperating with each other even prior to the start of formal diplomatic relations, which officially commenced on November 30, 1974.
Ms Vargas specifically pointed to the close ties between Cuba and the islands of the south, such as Ragged Island and Inagua, noting some Bahamians on these islands listen to Cuban radio stations and historically traded salt, goats, and vegetables with their large southern neighbour.
In 2000, a Cuban Consulate General was set up in New Providence and an embassy was established in 2004.
“Today we enjoy a healthy bilateral relationship,” Ms Vargas said, pointing to a wide array of areas inclusive of education, health, music, visual arts, national security, agriculture, tourism, and trade.
In terms of education, Ms Vargas noted there are currently roughly 40 Cuban teachers in the Bahamas, who teach in a “variety of fields”, ranging from Spanish to Physics, Technical Drawing to Agriculture.
She added in the last 15 years since the two countries began cooperating in education, more than 200 teachers have come into the Bahamas. Ms Vargas also noted that while these educators teach, they themselves also learn— returning to Cuba with a stronger knowledge of English and understanding another system of education.
Another major area of cooperation is National Security. Noting Cuba and the Bahamas “share the same sea”, in 2011 the two nations signed a maritime boundary agreement.
Ms Vargas added the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Cuban authorities work together in the fight against illegal maritime activities. She pointed specifically to the incident that took place last October when Cuban authorities assisted the RBDF in apprehending more than 100 Dominican poachers and their ships.
To this, the ambassador underscored the importance of honouring these 45 years of diplomatic relations “with action”.
Ms Vargas went on to state that in 2015 an agreement of cooperation was signed with the Public Hospitals Authority — leading to 40 Cuban professionals currently working at the Princess Margaret and Rand Hospitals in areas such as pharmacy.
Another important area of cooperation is trade, however Ms Vargas said there is still “a way to go” in that sector. She noted there are products in the Bahamas that would be popular in Cuba but transportation is a major issue, as goods often have to be routed through Panama or the United States.
However, she added, a Bahamian company has recently completed paperwork with Cuba to make a direct route possible.