Jamaican Government to improve coordination of support to students in Cuba

In my last post, I referred to a radio interview with Jamaican students in Cuba, who are struggling – mainly due to a lack of food. Here is a fairly lengthy response from Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

I note also that the People’s National Party (PNP), which has a historically close relationship with Cuba’s Communist regime, says it is “exploring ways” to assist. It goes on to say:

Cuba’s economic challenges are compounded by an economic blockade against the country and made worse by the impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic.

It commends the Jamaican Parliament for its role in Jamaica’s consistent and principled position of rejecting the blockade against Cuba and calling for its end.

The PNP says it’s also important to reject what it calls cyber warfare, and misinformation being waged against the Cuban people and the government.

https://nationwideradiojm.com/pnp-exploring-ways-to-assist-cuba-amid-recent-food-crisis-mass-protest/

Here is the Ministry’s response to the students’ concerns:

GOJ TO IMPROVE COORDINATION OF SUPPORT TO STUDENTS IN CUBA

(MFA&FT: July 28, 2021)

The Government of Jamaica has announced that further plans are underway to protect the welfare of Jamaican students in Cuba, who are currently experiencing challenges due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in that country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Sen. The Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith shared that, “We empathize with our nationals who are part of the Jamaica-Cuba Bilateral Medical Scholarship Programme and other students studying there, as well as with the Government and people of Cuba, in these difficult circumstances. I am fully aware there is significant distress and anxiety among our students in accessing certain basic supplies.”

The Minister continued that, “our Ambassador in Havana early last year obtained permission for the duty free purchase of items for students and I understand that 50 students took advantage of that opportunity.”

“Efforts were also made to accommodate a further request led by a group of parents on behalf of 30 students in the latter part of last year into early 2021. The Ministry played a central role in coordinating this shipment and received donations from a group of parents in keeping with the limit of 10 kilograms (22 pounds), prescribed by the Cuban authorities.  However, this effort was complicated by travel restrictions and reduced means of cargo transportation.  The group subsequently identified a shipping company, retrieved the items from the Ministry and ultimately sent a shipment of more than a thousand pounds over the prescribed limit, requiring significant application of the Ministry’s time and limited resources to address.”

The Minister is reassuring the public that the Foreign Ministry is committed to improving the Government’s broader coordinated support to students in Cuba, as she indicated that alternative shipping arrangements are being explored. 

Minister Johnson Smith further explained, “While our Ministry is dealing with this instant case, we are verifying the number of students still in Cuba as we are advised that many have already returned. We are also working with interested stakeholders, in both the public and private sectors, on making use of the new procedures announced by the Cuban authorities, for the importation of food, medicine and other essentials, which will be in effect until 31st December 2021. The Embassy in Havana will update all students on the outcome of these discussions. The students are also encouraged to explore private use of this opportunity.”  

The Foreign Affairs Minister also said that the Embassy in Havana will be working with student groups in the different provinces to create a needs list. Additionally, the Ministry will be meeting with parents and other representative groups to determine the best way forward.

Johnson Smith reiterated, “The Foreign Affairs Ministry takes very seriously its mandate for the promotion and protection of the welfare of our nationals overseas, wherever they reside.  Beyond its support by way of disbursement of scholarship stipends and responding to ongoing consular requests of the student population, the Embassy of Jamaica in Cuba, with its limited staff, has remained alert to the specific challenges now being experienced.  In this regard, the Embassy has had the full and constant support of its Headquarters in Kingston.  It is therefore regretted that there is a view that the Ministry has been unsympathetic and unresponsive to the concerns of our student population.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade looks forward to better and more coordinated engagement with the student population in Cuba and with the relevant MDAS charged with managing scholarship arrangements for Jamaican students.

Recent demonstrations in Cuba against food shortages, power cuts and other grievances were highly unusual and are unlikely to be repeated any time soon, since many of those involved (including journalists) have been arrested or are under surveillance. (Photo: Alexandre Meneghini/Getty Images)


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