Friday, May 18, 2007

In the South Pacific

First, it was Nauru.

Then, the Solomon Islands.

Now, the Castro regime is attempting to expand its ties in the South Pacific even further by making overtures to the military government in Fiji.

According to local media reports, Cuban representatives have offered to provide “free” scholarships to an undisclosed number of Fijian students to study medicine in Havana.

As well, the Fijians have been offered a trainer or two to help the local boxing team, plus a team of agricultural “experts” to help with the sugar harvest, which is hilarious, I know, given the woeful state of what little remains of the once-great Cuban sugar industry.

So, what’s all this about, you ask?

Simple - it’s called rank opportunism.

You see, with a population of about 900,000, Fiji is one of the largest of the South Pacific island states, a truly idyllic spot with a well-developed tourist industry and traditionally close ties to the West.

Sadly, the country is currently under an “interim” military government, led by one Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who took power last year after forcing the democratically elected prime minister to step down.

To be fair, Commodore Bainimarama is not in the same league as Augusto Pinochet, let alone Fidel Castro.

In keeping with the way of the South Pacific, this is a "light" version of a military dictatorship but a military dictatorship it most certainly is.

Since the coup, the two largest and wealthiest nations in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, which together provide millions of dollars in aid to Fiji, have been working hard to isolate the military administration.

Along with the US and the European Union, Australia and New Zealand have repeatedly called for the military to get back to their barracks and for Fiji to return to democracy.

Right on cue, enter the Castro brothers …


Blogger Wokabaut Aussi said...

As someone who lived and worked in the Solomons for years, I am certain local patients will be very happy to welcome Cuban doctors no matter what the colour of their politics. In Solomon Islands the doctor-patient ratio is one for every 10,000 and Cuba's 40 doctors offer a minor miracle to countless ailing Solomon Islanders.
Get some facts straight. Overseas doctors do not come free. It costs the Solomon Islands Government $120,000 a year to employ a Cuban doctor. Compare that with around $400,000 for one from an advanced country like Australia. I suggest it is unreasonable to expect Pacific Island governments to turn a blind eye to savings of $220,000 per doctor per year. To be more precise this represents a total saving of $8.8 million for 40 Cuban medicos in the case of Solomon Islands.
Don't underestimate the underlying resentment towards Australia contained in the move to more friendly relations with Cuba. Australia's heavy-handed approach to Melanesian countries in particular is rapidly earning it the reputation as 'the bully-boy of the Pacific'. Accepting an offer of Cuban doctors not only addresses an extreme need for medical services, but signals to Australia that it is not the only big kid on the block.
I am sorry you suffered under the Castro regime but please resist the temptation to introduce cold war scare politics into this region at the expense of our neighbours in need.

9:09 pm  

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