'Nigerians Fit Well Into Cuban Society' -Â Cuban Ambassador
ABUJA, June 05, (THEWILL) - The Caribbean nation of Cuba was one of the few countries outside the African continent that officially commemorated Africa Day - a day set aside by the African Union (AU) to mark the setting up of its predecessor, Organization of African Unity (OAU) - at the highest level. In this interview with His Excellency, Elio Savon Oliva, the Cuban ambassador to Nigeria, TUNJI AJIBADE, a Consultant Writer, asked him why the Cuban government took this step as well as other sundry questions that concern Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.
QUESTION: Can we meet you?
ANSWER: My name is Elio Savon Oliva. My academic background is in International Relations and Economics. I have been in Foreign Service and International Relations for years. My interests are in reading and exchanges with friends and so on. I am interested in knowing more and more of the history of the countries I visit, and I try to know the root, the cultural roots, of the countries. I arrived Nigeria in October 2006. Before then, I had served in other countries. I served in South Africa, in the U.N. and in Zambia. I am happy to serve in Nigeria now. I feel at home in Nigeria. I have my family, children and it’s been a greet experience to work in Nigeria. I am very happy about my posting to Nigeria. I enjoy Nigeria very much I have many Nigerian friends.
QUESTION: On the occasion of the Africa Day this year, the Cuban leader, General Raul Castro chaired an official meeting in Havana to commemorate Africa Day. Tell us, why did Cuba take such a significant step?
ANSWER: Cuba had been interested in Africa as colonies as at that time. As independent countries, Cuba has always approached all these countries in order to assist them as new and emerging nations, and we are happy to see these nations develop. This explains why it is very important for us to commemorate the Day.
QUESTION: Can you tell us in what ways Cuba has links with the African continent?
ANSWER: The links of Cuba with Africa has been basically in term of cooperation and according the possibilities that are available to Cuba. The first time Cuba came to Africa to offer assistance was in 1962, barely two years after the Cuban revolution, when our doctors came to Algeria. From then on, Cuba has been helping African countries by providing doctors to several countries, providing professors in different areas, providing scholarships to African youth to become professionals in Medicine and Engineering and other fields in Cuba. We also helped in establishing school of medicine in some African countries so that Africans can be trained to become medical doctors in their own countries with Cuban professors and expertise. Cuba had also come to the aid of African countries in the war for independence. Cuba had been involved in the liberation of Southern Africa, Angola, for instance, when the apartheid regime was about to take over Angola. Cuba assisted the country until the time it got independence in 1975. Also Cuba has contributed to the level of literacy in many African countries.
QUESTION: What are the on going relations between your country and Nigeria specifically?
ANSWER: Cuba’s relation with Nigeria is very healthy and excellent. The establishment of relations between the two countries began since we both formally opened embassies in each other’s countries in 1974. But the relations had been on since the time of Nigeria's independence. I can say that Cuba and Nigeria share the same purposes as developing countries in terms of the need of developing countries, in terms of the need for South- South cooperation, the need for strengthening non-aligned movement. On several issues, Cuba and Nigeria take the same position.
Bilaterally, there are relations between Cuba and Nigeria. The cooperation I had mentioned earlier extends to Nigeria. The literacy campaign has been taken to Nigeria. Cuban method of teaching people in how to read and write have been applied in twelve Nigerian states as a pilot for the 36 states - in English and six other languages. Cuban doctors have also worked in Nigeria for some years. Also many Nigerian students went for studies in medicine in Cuba and on graduation came back to Nigeria. There are also malaria control projects going on in Nigeria by Cuban doctors as well as in energy efficiency programme.
QUESTION: What are your views about Nigerians that reside in Cuba, and in what fields are Cubans living in Nigeria active?
ANSWER: Well, Nigerians residing in Cuba fit very well into Cuban society. Cuba has been relating with Nigeria culturally, and Nigerians are not alien to Cuban population. Nigerians residing in Cuban society are mostly students. They fit in very well, and they have done very well. I must say that about 100 Nigerians graduated from medicine last year. The first person in term of marks was a Nigerian. He had the most outstanding result. They are doing very well there and they are very well adapted to the Cuban society. As for Cubans in Nigeria, there are very few Cubans residing in Nigeria at the moment. But those who are here are in contact with the embassy and they are doing very well.
QUESTION: If you return to Havana today, what message will you take back about Nigeria, government and its people?
ANSWER: Well, I will say that Nigeria is really a great country. Nigeria is a great country with great people. It is a country that has a lot of potentials with a lot of resources. A lot of capable people, lot of friendly people, people with good manners, respectful people, people who are worthy, and good to work with. In term of the society, Nigeria’s is a complex society because of the fact that it is a vast country, the most populated in Africa. It makes it great, the fact that the government is able to manage that and to manage the people of the country. The Nigerian government has been dedicated to solving the problem of the society which is the same problem in most developing countries.
QUESTION: What do you foresee as likely trend in Africa Cuba relations in the nearest future?
ANSWER: Well, I think we can thrive in the area of trade, and also in the elements of creating social impact. There is also cooperation in the malaria control programme. Cuba can offer this to Nigeria. And basically there are areas such as sports. We already have cooperation in this. Cuba offers courses in sports to Nigerian. We have our international school of sports, and Nigerians are training there, working with coaches. There also different areas of trade based on resources in term of agriculture that can also emerge.
QUESTION: Your Excellency, the World (FIFA) Cup holds in South Africa in June, the question is, when will Cuba make its World Cup appearance?
ANSWER: Well, I think we are in that process. We are coming up strong like other football-loving nations. And I am sure Cuba has the potential to participate in the World Cup. But I cannot say when that will be. I know in Cuba, sports development is very vast in terms of the Olympics whether in boxing, athletics, volleyball, wrestling, basket ball and so on. I am sure that sooner or later, Cuba will also perform in the World Cup.
QUESTION: Considering the fact that the theme of 2010 Africa Day is ‘Building and Sustaining Peace Through Sports’, when do you think Cuba will use sports to build and sustain peace both in the Americas and around the world?
ANSWER: Sport is not just an activity to promote health, but it is also used to promote interaction, and indeed peace among people. Cuba is a country that has always defended peace among countries, and cooperation as well as equality. So Cuba is actually doing this and there is the proof that in spite of the hostility from our neighbor, the US government, we have friendship with all Latin American and Caribbean countries. We have cooperation with them in the field of sport. We also have exchanges with the American people but unfortunately, the American government has prevented American people from knowing more about Cuba. Cuba is the only country that the American government does not allow its people to visit freely, and we are just about ninety miles away.
QUESTION: What is your view about Nigeria’s quest to have a permanent seat in the UN Security Council?
ANSWER: I think Nigeria is a country that, because of the things I have just told you, has all the right to have a permanent seat in Security Council. I also think that the Security Council should be reformed, the whole of the U.N. should be properly reformed so that Nigeria like other countries can have the right to have a permanent seat at the Security Council. The way the Security Council is at the moment is outdated; it doesn’t work. There is need to have more representation of countries to have permanent seats in the Security Council.