Just five months into his tenure, Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yuri Gala Lopez, says that since being here he has been welcomed not just as a diplomat, but as a friend.
“I am really honoured to be appointed here as an ambassador, because I know the close relationship that has existed between both countries, in terms of history, in terms of family ties and, I think, in terms of the friendship and cooperation,” Ambassador Lopez says in an interview with JIS News.
The Ambassador notes that, although Jamaica and Cuba already have strong diplomatic ties, his ultimate goal is to deepen these bonds, to the benefit of the Jamaican and Cuban peoples.ASince the re-establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations in 1990, the areas of cooperation have diversified and they now include health, education, tourism, hydraulic resources, and agriculture, among others. However, Ambassador Lopez points out that the area of health care remains the focus of attention by the Cuban Government with regards to Jamaica.
“We have about 90 (medical professionals) in different hospitals and health centres all across Jamaica. And we are actually opening up today an ophthalmology centre, which is comprised of 14 Cubans that just arrived and will be providing their services. So, in total, we are talking about almost 100 people who are actually rendering their services here in Jamaica as part of bilateral cooperation agreements,” he outlines.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Hon Kenneth Baugh (left), shaking the hands of Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Yuri Gala Lopez.
Cuba is known for its expertise in the field of health care and had been offering eye surgeries to Jamaicans and other CARICOM nationals through Operation Miracle Eye Care Programme. However, Cuba has now taken this assistance further by providing the personnel and equipment to allow the service to be offered here.
The ophthalmology centre, located at the St. Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston, will allow the programme to reach 5,000 patients free of cost, up from the 1,000 who would usually travel to Cuba for surgeries.
Cuba also offers a significant amount of assistance in the area of education, and Ambassador Lopez notes that there are about 44 teachers working at different levels of the education system in Jamaica.
The Spanish-speaking island is also a Mecca for Jamaican students seeking scholarships, especially in the medical field, with the Cuban Embassy being flooded with hundreds of applications for scholarships each year.
The Cuba/CARICOM Scholarship Programme has been ongoing for over 20 years, and hundreds of CARICOM nationals have received valuable training in medicine, engineering, agronomy and other areas. There are currently 281 Jamaican students pursuing higher education in Cuba under regional and bilateral scholarship programmes.
In addition to maintaining programmes already in place, the new Cuban Ambassador wants to make a mark before his four-year tenure expires. He said that although Jamaica and Cuba have cooperated in the past in the area of Agriculture, he is hoping to extend the level of cooperation in this area.
Ambassador Lopez says he would also like to see more cooperation in the area of culture, and has suggested artiste exchanges, as well as more interaction between universities here and those in Cuba.
“We are actually in talks with some universities here in Jamaica, in order to see if we can identify projects, whether we can identify concrete projects so that we can strengthen the relationship between Jamaican universities and Cuban universities, as well,” he tells the JIS.
Ambassador Lopez also shares that Cuba is looking to increase its level of trade with Jamaica, given the proximity of the two countries.
However, despite all the diplomatic responsibilities and his expectations for his tenure, he notes that one of his greatest experiences in Jamaica so far has been the warmth Jamaicans have shown him and his family.