After years of temporary closure due to unspecified circumstances, Cuba has reopened its embassy in Monrovia with the hope of fostering and consolidating bilateral ties between Liberia and Cuba.
A ceremony marking the reopening of the embassy was held on Friday, December 9, and was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, government officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other invited guests.
In an opening address by visiting Cuban Director General for Bilateral Affairs Ambassador Gerardo Peñalver Portal, he acknowledged African countries for their mutual relationship with Cuba since the days of their struggles for independence.
According to Ambassador Portal, Africans identified with Cuba in its fight for independence from Spain, and Cuba in return helped many African countries with military aid and other support to get their independence in the 1960s and 70s.
He recalled that the people of Cuba, upon realizing the role of the African Union in advocating for the lifting of the U. S. economic blockade of Cuba, have continued to reciprocate by allowing its medical doctors to come to Africa to help fight epidemics, including the Ebola scourge.
He added that there is a student exchange program that allows African students to study in Cuba and return to their respective countries to make contributions.
“Recognizing the role of Africa in the existence of Cuba, a brigade of 15,000 Cuban doctors and nurses came to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in 2014, after 40 years of bilateral relations, to help fight the Ebola disease that caused much suffering for Liberians and others in the sub-region,” Ambassador Portal noted.
He also acknowledged President Raul Castro for responding to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) request to allow Cuban doctors to come to Ebola-affected countries in 2014 to help fight the virus.
The Cuban Diplomat then commended African leaders for the solidarity shown to Cuba during the demise of its revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro.
He expressed the hope that as the Cuban flag rises up on Liberian soil after a long period of absence, the relationship between the two countries will be characterized by mutual respect, understanding and friendship.
He said Cubans are willing to come to Liberia through this bilateral relation to help in whatever way they can to uplift Liberia.
Praising US President Barack Obama for steps he has taken to reestablish relations between Cuba and the United States, Ambassador Portal repeatedly acknowledged Liberia’s advocacy role on behalf of Cuba at the level of the United Nations to lift all the sanctions.
President Obama began the process last year by allowing Cuba and United States to exchange ambassadors and to allow flights from the US to Havana; however, there still remain economic sanctions that prevent the United States and other countries from doing business with Cuba.
The only business firm the US has established in Cuba since President Obama began the process is in communication, but trade and industrial exchanges involving importation and exportation of goods and services, and tourism remain untouched.
Ambassador Portal called on African leaders for their support of United States’ unconditional lifting of the remaining sanctions on his country.
Cuba has been under US imposed economic sanction for over 50 years, which the Ambassador said has caused his country to lose billions of dollars and even human resources.
He said despite the blockade, Cuba with support from African countries, has survived through self-determination, evidence by Cuba being one of the countries with the best educational system in the world producing well trained medical doctors.
Cuban Chargè d’Aaffaires to Liberia, Yordenis Despaigne Vera, said in his welcoming speech that the opening of the embassy marked a significant milestone between Liberia and Cuba, and made the commitment to strengthen bilateral relations of interest to both peoples.
Speaking on behalf of the Liberian Government, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Sylvester Grigsby said, “It is for us a great pleasure to witness the reopening of the Cuban Embassy in Monrovia. I was much younger when I first witnessed the opening of Cuban Embassy in Monrovia, and so I consider it providential to be here for its reopening.”
Minister Grigsby added that while Liberia and Cuba have enjoyed “excellent relations,” Cuba has been most helpful to Liberia in many times of need, recalling assistance provided during the Ebola crisis as a recent significant help to always remember.
He also acknowledged that Cuba has provided education and training opportunities for Liberians in sports, medicine and other disciplines.
Min. Grigsby disclosed that Cuba has promised to send some medical doctors to help revamp the health system; depending Liberia can provide the minimum support. Liberia and Cuba’s relations began in 1979 with both countries exchanging ambassadors.