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Timor Leste: Cuba's honour and Australia's shame

Red Ant - June 6, 2024

Max Lane – Last week, while in Dili, I had the opportunity for a chat over coffee with the Cuban Ambassador to Timor Leste, Alina Aldama. I had met the Ambassador briefly at the State Restoration of Independence Day Celebrations on 20 May.

Cuba was the second nation to recognise Timor Leste as a nation. The late President Fidel Castro once stated that "Timor Leste will be a lighthouse of Alexandria for Southeast Asia." I was very keen to chat with her to hear how Cuba's various development assistance programmes were going, its medical assistance programme being the most famous.

After I heard the latest statistics from Ambassador Aldama, I could only shake my head in amazement. I knew that Cuba, with a population of only 11 million, is still a poor country. The World Bank states that Cuba's GDP per capita is just under US$10,000 per year compared to US$65,000 for Australia. In addition, Cuba's economic development has been massively constrained by the increasingly harsh embargo being enforced by the United States government. Yet socialist Cuba's contribution to Timor Leste is outstanding.

When then-President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao met President Fidel Castro at the 13th Non-Aligned Summit in Kuala Lumpur in 2003, they reached an agreement that Cuba would assist Timor Leste's development. The first programme on the ground, starting 20 years ago, was the medical programme.

"Over the last 20 years, more than 1,000 doctors have trained in Cuba and have returned to serve their people in Timor Leste," explained the Ambassador. One thousand doctors – amazing!

Some thoughts came to me: wealthy Australia also has a medical training assistance programme, but nothing compared to Cuba's. And, in any case, Australia has for a longtime been extracting wealth out of Timor Leste, not to mention contributing to holding Timor's development back by supporting the Suharto dictatorship-era Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste. Australia still hasn't paid its debts to Timor.

All of the 1,000 Timorese trainee doctors had travelled to Cuba and received a full degree there. Now, the Ambassador explained, there was a reorientation to training doctors in Timor Leste itself. For some time now there have been 160 Cuban doctors and nurses based in Timor Leste. Most of them also spent the whole of the two years of Covid in Timor Leste. Today, confirmed the Ambassador, these doctors visit and are active in hospitals and clinics across the whole geography of Timor. Many of these doctors are also involved in training. And in fact, over 1,000 Cuban doctors have themselves served in Timor since 2003.

"The Cuban School of Medicine is located within the National University of Timor Leste. It has five teaching centres. Here, Timorese can study medicine without being separated from the warmth of family and homes." Teaching covers 30 areas of medical health. There are also six sports medicine specialists in Timor to help spread a scientific approach to developing sport.

In 2023, President Horta awarded medals and other recognitions to over 70 Cuban doctors and thanked Cuba for its medical solidarity, including during a flood emergency.

In 2022, Cuba also committed to helping build a pharmaceutical and probiotic yoghurt factory. The Charge de Affairs back then, Jose Perez, explained that it would help Timor Leste reduce dependence on imports and would be able to produce both medicines and vaccines. "Probiotic yoghurt would be a very good thing to be able to distribute to school children," explained Ambassador Aldama. Cuba is clearly ready to continue to help with this project.

The Ambassador also pointed to the Cuban-developed "Yes I can" literacy programme which has resulted in Atauro Island being declared free of illiteracy, the first such region in the Timor Leste. Agricultural experts have also studied the county's agricultural situation and presented a report and recommendations to the Government.

"We will accompany and support projects aimed at training and consolidating human resources, one of the requirements if Timor Leste is to enter ASEAN. We will always be here for Timor Leste whenever it needs us."

Poor and small, but socialist Cuba, is doing all that.

The Ambassador's husband had arrived to pick her up and was waiting in the car and had to go. I had introduced myself to her at the Restoration of Independence Day commemoration with the words "End the Embargo" but in parting, it was just "Obrigado" (thank you) and have a good day.

Once again, the rich (and capitalist) countries are put to shame.

Viva Cuba! Viva Timor Leste!

Source: https://red-ant.org/2024/06/06/timor-leste-cubas-honour-and-australias-shame