I'd like to thank you for joining us in celebrating the 54th Anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution, officially commemorated on January 1st. That day in the year 1959 marked a milestone for my homeland because the victory of the revolutionary forces allowed the Cuban people to attain true independence and sovereignty.
Since then, the Cuban people undertook their project of freedom, solidarity and social justice, facing hostility and aggressions of various kinds. The Cuban Revolution has overcome those obstacles and just started its 55th year of existence and counting.
Year 2012 was a very dynamic one for Cuba in many areas. Cuba held elections for its local government structures at the municipal level, a process which was implemented successfully. On February 3, Cubans will go to the polls to vote for provincial delegates and members of Parliament.
Despite the tensions associated with the global economic and financial crisis and other external challenges, the Cuban economy was expected to close year 2012 with a 3.1 per cent growth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For 2013, Cuba foresees a 3.7 per cent GDP growth.
The gradual updating of Cuba's economic model continued. Last December, Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz pointed out that:
"The updating of the Cuban economic model is advancing at a firm pace and it now begins to address major, broader and more complex issues, based on the premise that everything we do is aimed at the preservation and development of a sustainable and prosperous Socialist society, the only guarantee for the independence and national sovereignty achieved by several generations of fellow countrymen in more than 140 years of struggle."
In 2012 Cuba had to face important natural challenges. In October, Hurricane Sandy caused significant losses for my country, mainly in its Eastern region, where Santiago de Cuba, the country's second largest city, was particularly hit. However, the recovery process of the storm-damaged provinces is underway. International solidarity was shown to us in a myriad of ways, something which we deeply appreciate.
Last year, Cuba managed to preserve important social achievements. For example, my country ended 2012 with an infant mortality rate of 4.6 per 1000 live births, the lowest in the Americas. For the fifth consecutive year, Cuba registered a child mortality rate under five, an expression of the human development index. Moreover, the country reported the second lowest maternal mortality rate in its history.
On the other hand, the new migratory measures recently announced by the Cuban Government show its willingness to continue strengthening the relations between the nation and its emigration.
Cuba continues to enjoy an increasing international recognition maintaining diplomatic relations with over 180 countries. We keep receiving the moral support of many governments and peoples of the world in our denunciation of the five-decade old blockade, while solidarity is growing in the case of the five Cuban antiterrorist fighters unjustly imprisoned in the United States.
By the end of this month, Cuba will assume the Pro tempore Presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a step which entails an immense honour and a great responsibility to which my country will devote the greatest efforts and energies.
In spite of our economic challenges and convinced of the importance of globalising solidarity to build a better world, Cuba has continued to provide its modest cooperation to other sister nations of the South. For example, more than 29,000 youth from 115 countries are now studying in Cuba. Out of those, more than 18,000 scholarship holders come from Latin America and the Caribbean countries.
In December 2012, Cubans together with the Caribbean people again celebrated the Caricom-Cuba Day, but this time was special because we also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the joint decision adopted by four countries, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.
That brave and historic political decision taken in 1972 by those newly independent countries, in a climate of hostility and enormous pressures, was a breach in the isolation imposed on Cuba and marked the beginning of the close and excellent relations of friendship, solidarity and cooperation that Cuba enjoys today with all CARICOM member States.
The year 2012 was indeed very fruitful for Cuba-Jamaica relations, precisely the year when we celebrated four decades of bilateral diplomacy based on strong friendship, cooperation and solidarity.
More than 200 Jamaicans are studying medicine and other university courses in Cuba under the relevant scholarship programme. In addition to that, over 200 Cubans specialists are part of bilateral cooperation programmes implemented in Jamaica mainly in the fields of health and education.
Last year, the Cuba-Jamaica Ophthalmology Centre, located in Kingston, performed more than 1,400 surgeries. Since 2005 to date, more than 65,000 Jamaicans have been screened under that programme, while more than 9,000 patients have undergone eye surgery free of charge to them.
Both countries continued to exchange high level delegations during 2012. In January, a Cuban delegation headed by His Excellency Esteban Lazo, vice-president of the Council of State, visited Kingston to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Most Hon Portia Simpson Miller as Prime Minister. In December, Jamaica was visited by a Cuban delegation led by parliamentarian Kenia Serrano, President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples.
In the same line, Cuba received the official visit of a delegation headed by the Hon AJ Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Cuba was also visited by other high-level Jamaican delegations, including those led by the Honourable Ministers of Youth and Culture, Health, Science and Technology, and by the Attorney General.
Both countries continued to support each other in international fora. Last October, at the UN General Assembly, the Government of Jamaica (along with 187 countries) supported again the resolution on the necessity of ending the unjust US blockade against Cuba. That position was also shared by the House of Representatives of Jamaica. Cuba deeply appreciates that solidarity. We also thank those Jamaicans who continue to be involved in friendship groups with Cuba.
I'd like you to join me in a toast to the 54th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and to the further strengthening of the longstanding friendship between the peoples and governments of Jamaica and Cuba.
Yuri Gala Lopez is Cuba's Ambassador to Jamaica. The edited speech was delivered at a diplomatic reception on January 16 to mark the 54th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, officially commemorated on January 1.
Mark Wignall' column did not arrive in time for publication