Your Excellency, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez of Cuba,

Your Excellency, Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Chairman of CARICOM,

Colleague Heads of Government of CARICOM,

Your Excellency, Irwin LaRocque, Secretary-General of CARICOM,

Ladies and Gentlemen in our Community of Friends,

it is my honour to be able to join today’s meeting.

Despite all the upheaval that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused globally and in our own region, I am extremely pleased that we are able to keep this appointment to convene our 7th Summit between Cuba and CARICOM on this day, 8 December — the CARICOM – Cuba day.

This is a necessary Summit for several reasons, first, because we need to reflect on where we are as region, amid a world in crisis.

Second, we need to fashion our own indigenous, regional strategies for recovery.

Yes, we have managed our response to the pandemic with regional cooperation and solidarity, and these must be terms which underpin our recovery. Cuba has a long tradition of humanitarian assistance and has supported CARICOM States in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic through the deployment of medical personnel from its Henry Reeve Brigade.

In the early days of the pandemic, Cuba sent 59 members of the Brigade to Belize to augment our own frontline medical personnel. Currently 50 Cuban medical personnel remain in Belize providing critical support as our own ranks frontline medical workers have been battered by COVID-19. The Belizean people as well as my government are truly grateful for the swift support of Cuba, despite its own challenges at home.

Cuba’s support in the battle against COVID-19, is in keeping with its long history of cooperation in the health care field across the world. In the case of Belize, cooperation between our country and Cuba goes back over 30 years — predating even the establishment of bilateral relations. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgency and necessity of strengthening our healthcare systems. We have within our region the capacity, skills, and knowledge to do this.

Cuba’s excellent health care system is a shining example of what can be achieved. The Cuban Medical Brigade, which has been a consistent and constant feature of Belize’s health sector for over 20 years, have been transformative.

At the same time, Cuba has supported Belize in training young Belizeans in medicine. Because of this we can confirm that a large segment of the Belizean medical profession, at least 200 persons, have benefited from Cuba’s generosity and commitment of investment in human capital. These are the kinds of intervention that will help us strengthen our health systems.

As we know, the cooperation between Cuba and our region is not confined to the field of health alone. We are working together in many areas fundamental to the sustainable development of our region including in education, culture and the arts and trade. A common challenge we are all facing especially as small island developing states is climate change. This year alone, Belize suffered a devastating drought at the start of the year and then 3 storms between September and November bringing floods not seen by Belizeans in generations. Belize’s experience is recognized by all the countries here.

While we do not have it in our power alone to address climate change, we can learn more from each other on disaster risk reduction and preparedness. I am sure this is an area for deeper cooperation.

CARICOM is working assiduously on improving its agriculture production and Cuba is a large market needing predictable supply of such products. Our trade and economic relations should truly reflect the close fraternal and political relations we already enjoy. Regional resilience and regional prosperity must be driven by us, by our cooperation and collaboration. But, our cooperation and collaboration should also extend beyond the region to advance our common interests.

At the multilateral level, CARICOM stands firmly with Cuba in demanding an end to the illegal financial and economic embargo against Cuba — Belize of course supports this regional position without reservation.

We need to amplify our advocacy at the global level on the challenges we are all facing as SIDS in respect of access to concessional and grant resources, debt relief, and the replacement of outmoded criteria for graduation with a universal vulnerability index.

Cuba’s contribution to Caribbean development is significant and transformative. Caribbean people, including Belizeans, have a deep respect and admiration for Cuba and the Cuban people, for their resilience, their fearlessness and their service to humanity.

For all you do, we thank you Senor Presidente, as well your government and people for you generosity, your readiness to always support and assist; for your tenacity. Know my dear friend that you can count on us, CARICOM, and Belize for our support and solidarity.

I thank you.