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Cuba-Timor Leste: 'Our solidarity is not just words'

Granma International - September 18, 2008

Juan Diego Nusa Penalver, Havana – Never were two nations as united as Cuba and Timor Leste through links of cooperation and solidarity at such difficult moments in history; two nations so distant, geographically speaking, but both determined to face the future.

The pain and difficulties of one are shared by the other. This is how I interpret the meaning of the words spoken by Jose Ramos Horta, president of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste who, moments before concluding his official visit to the island, agreed to talk to the National News Agency (AIN).

"Our solidarity, which is not only words, has made it possible for us to contribute $500,000 for the victims of Hurricane Gustav in Cuba, despite the fact that Timor Leste, a new and small country, has barely one million inhabitants," said the president.

After describing this contribution as "modest", he highlighted the significant help that Cuba is giving to his country, despite the fact that, geographically, the two countries are very distant.

He then recalled that during the 2006 crisis, in the midst of tremendous suffering on the part of the Timorese people, certain international agencies left the country, including the US Peace Corps, which had 600 members there.

The corps received an order from the State Department to withdraw despite the fact there was no physical threat to its members.

"However," he added, "the Cuban doctors stayed with us, helping, saving lives and taking care of the wounded. And our people know this and feel this."

The head of state, who received first-hand information on the devastation caused by Hurricane Gustav and preparations underway in the face of the equally powerful Ike, said that many countries, including the rich nations, could learn a lot from Cuba's experience in prevention, organization and mobilization for evacuating people under the threat of cyclones or other natural disasters.

"I believe that it is a very good and important experience that Cuba could share with other countries in order to save lives in the face of phenomena of this kind."

During his stay in Havana, Ramos Horta met with a delegation of the close to 700 young people from that nation who are studying in Cuba, the vast majority of them medical students.

"They feel completely safe here, there are no problems and they are very happy. The hurricane has certainly affected them, given that they had to abandon their things, but the most important thing is that no one was injured or lost their life."

Cuba-Timor Leste cooperation

The Timorese president praised the work of the 231 Cuban healthcare workers and 36 teaching advisors who are promoting healthcare and trying to eradicate literacy in Timor Leste.

"There have doubtless been results, but it is a tremendous challenge in terms of the problems that we have with malaria, dengue, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and a very high level of illiteracy, but with the Cuban cooperative workers we will be able to reverse the situation within the next five years," underlined Ramos Horta, who described this contribution as effective and very generous, adding that it would also assist his country in meeting the Millennium Goals for reducing poverty, set by the United Nations in 2000.

He affirmed his belief that this effort has even greater merit given that Cuba is a small country, not a rich nation like Australia or France.

"As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as president, as a citizen of the world, it profoundly impresses that Cuba's contribution is greater than that of nations such as the United States and those in Europe, taking into account its economic and financial dimension. "Cuba has our gratitude, our acknowledgment, our admiration, as an example of true human solidarity," he emphasized.

Against the US blockade

Ramos Horta categorically rejected the economic, commercial and financial blockade which the US government imposed on Cuba 50 years ago, and questioned Washington's motives, given that it maintains full relations with countries that have different political systems to its own.

He questioned the reasons for maintaining this policy, inherited from the Cold War, when the world was divided in two blocks and whoever was a friend of the Soviet Union was an enemy of the United States and vice versa; a situation, he stated, which brought suffering to many states.

"The United States cannot continue with its pretension of imposing its political and economic system on other nations.

"It has to accept countries as they are and leave their natural evolution to the people themselves. As a human being, I cannot possibly agree with this arbitrariness and for that reason, Timor Leste will always vote with Cuba against the embargo (blockade) on resolutions presented to the UN General Assembly," concluded the president of this Asian Pacific country, also known throughout the world as the "country of sandalwood." (AIN)