Inaugural Session of Sri Lanka-Cuba Joint Commission

(December 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Deputy Minister of Foreign Minister Hussein A. Bhaila, led the Sri Lanka delegation for the inaugural session of the Sri Lanka-Cuba Joint Commission held in Havana recently. The delegation also included Minister of Nation Building A.P. Jagath Pushpakumara, Minister of Water Supply Mahinda Amaraweera, and Mr. Rodney Perera, Director General, Political Affairs (Americas Division) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

First Deputy Minister of Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Ramón Ripoll Díaz, headed the Delegation of the Republic of Cuba at this meeting.

During the visit, the Sri Lanka delegation also met with First Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcos Rodríguez Costa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade Orlando Hernández Guillén, and Deputy Minister of Agriculture Juan Pérez Lamo.

Both Sri Lanka and Cuba agreed to promote bilateral trade links through visits of Sri Lanka businessmen, participation in trade fairs and strengthening ties with respective Chambers of Commerce. The promotion of Sri Lanka tea, apparel and gems and jewellery in Cuba were earmarked. Sri Lanka expressed its interest in participating in the construction sector in Cuba and requested assistance to identify projects.

As both countries have similar climatic conditions and flora, opportunity exists for viable and mutually beneficial exchanges of agricultural know-how and practices. Some crops that were identified for such exchanges were Mango, Papaya, Guava, Pineapple and Coconut. An invitation was extended to Cuba to participate the Fisheries Expo 2009 scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka in September 2009.

In the health sector, Cuba offered to share medical expertise and advice in the control of tropical diseases such as dengue and leptospyrosis. The talks also focused on the highly developed biotechnology industry in Cuba and how Cuban biotechnological products including vaccines can be marketed in Sri Lanka.

During the discussions, Cuban authorities offered to provide an English version of a successful Cuban literacy program called ‘Yes, I Can’ as well as related audio-visual materials. Further, the Cuban side invited Sri Lanka to participate in two forthcoming international education exhibitions which will be held in Cuba in 2009 and 2010.

The Cuban side also offered to provide Sri Lanka legal assistance for dealings with foreign oil companies.

While thanking the Cuban Government for making all arrangements for this visit, Deputy Minister Hussein Bhaila conveyed the greetings of Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse to President of Cuba Raúl Castro Ruz, , and the greetings from Sri Lankan Foreign Minister , Rohitha Bogollagama to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba Felipe Perez Roque,. He thanked the Cuban Government for all the support extended to Sri Lanka, especially during the Tsunami Disaster in year 2004.

He also appreciated the Cuban Government for granting scholarships for Sri Lankan students, mentioning that there are 25 Sri Lankans currently studying in Cuba in various fields, especially the new courses of Health Technology. In the field of sports, in addition to the assistance already being provided to Sri Lanka, the Cuban government also offered the services of trainers in several disciplines on contractual terms.

Deputy Minister Hussein Bhaila said that in the international forum, Sri Lanka has always maintained its solidarity with Cuba. He further said that Sri Lanka is facing a terrorist problem, which has now been contained to a great extent. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa took office, Sri Lanka had two provinces in which the menace of terrorism was prevalent, but one of the provinces i.e. the Eastern Province was cleared of the terrorists hold by the security forces, and provincial council elections held successfully. Formerly with the armed group, one person who was a child soldier recruited by the terrorists is now the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. After almost 25 years of terrorist dominance, development strategies have been launched in the eastern province. He said that Sri Lanka would appreciate whatever support the international community can give, for the development programmes in the eastern Province. Sri Lanka expects to have the elections in the North, as it had in the East, very soon.

Speaking about the close relations between the two countries over the last 50 years, Deputy Minister Bhaila mentioned that Sri Lanka will embark on a joint programme too celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries next year. In this context, he reiterated the invitation made by the President of Sri Lanka, to President Raúl Castro Ruz, to pay a visit to Sri Lanka in year 2009, to commemorate this event.

Deputy Minister Hussein Bhaila further mentioned that, Revolutionary Legendary Ernesto Che Guevara made a historic visit to Sri Lanka on 07th August 1959, and as he was very interested to have some knowledge about the rubber industry, undertook a visit to a rubber estate at Yahala Kele Horana, in the outskirts of Colombo, and had planted a Mahogany tree.

As the year 2009 marks the completion of 50 years of formal relations between the two countries which marked with the recognition of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it was decided that both sides would identify special activities to celebrate this milestone in a fitting manner. While speaking the importance of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parilla reiterated that there would be celebrations to mark this event with the visit of high-level delegations. He thanked for the very kind invitation extended by Sri Lankan President to the Cuban President, and promised that he will keep informed the Cuban President accordingly. Hon. Parilla briefed the Sri Lankan delegation, the importance of the three days i.e. 25th, 26th and 27th July for Cuba to hold the national celebrations annually to mark the National Rebellion Day of 26th July of 1953. He further requested to convey the regards of President Raul Castro to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, stating that it is a great gratitude to receive an invitation from him.

Regarding the Non Alignment Movement, First Deputy Minister Rodríguez expressed hope that Sri Lanka will continue to actively participate in the upcoming series of meetings of the Non Aligned meetings, including the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the 2nd NAM Ministerial Conference on Advancement of Women, the Health Ministerial Meeting during the World Health Organization Session in May 2009 in Geneva, the Ministerial Meeting on Interface, Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development and the Ministerial meeting on Labour along the sidelines of the ILO Session in June in Geneva. Deputy Minister Bhaila reiterated Sri Lanka’s unwavering commitment to the NAM agenda.
- Sri Lanka Guardian