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Strengthening Ties – The Enduring Bond between Cambodia and Cuba

by Surya Narayan
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The diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Cambodia and Cuba, established on April 15, 1960, have weathered the test of time, standing resilient through the ebb and flow of global politics and upheavals. This enduring partnership, a legacy of Fidel Castro and King Norodom Sihanouk, has blossomed into a multi-faceted relationship that spans healthcare, education, agriculture, and cultural exchange, transcending the geographical distance that separates these two nations.

The historical context in which these relations were forged has been pivotal in shaping their trajectory. The Cuban Revolution’s triumph had just been celebrated, marking a period when Cuba was extending its diplomatic outreach across Asia. The mutual respect and admiration between Castro and Sihanouk, underpinned by their shared vision for progress, peace, and justice, laid the foundation for a bond that has proven unbreakable, even in the face of adversity.

One cannot overlook the symbolic moments that have enriched this relationship. The opening of the Cuban Embassy in Cambodia by Raúl Valdés Vivó in 1967, amidst a war for national independence, and the accreditation of Melba Hernández as the first female Cuban Ambassador to Cambodia in 1979, are landmarks in the diplomatic journey of these nations. These events underscore the shared struggle and solidarity that have been a hallmark of Cambodia-Cuba relations.

The cooperation in the field of healthcare has been particularly noteworthy. The deployment of the first Cuban medical brigade to Phnom Penh in 1979 to revitalize the health system post the Khmer Rouge regime, and the subsequent support through the Comprehensive Health Program, highlight Cuba’s commitment to Cambodia’s wellbeing. The scholarship programs for Cambodian students in Cuba further illustrate the depth of this partnership, fostering a new generation of medical professionals equipped to contribute to their homeland’s development.

The realms of politics and culture have also seen significant collaboration. The dynamic Cambodia-Cuba Parliamentary Friendship Group, along with the cooperation between the Cuban Communist Party and Cambodian People’s Party, demonstrates a strong parliamentary relationship. Cultural exchanges, as evidenced by the impactful documentaries of Santiago Álvarez and the enchanting performances by Viengsay Valdés, have brought the people of these nations closer, nurturing mutual understanding and respect.

A notable aspect of the conversation was the reminiscence of former Prime Minister Mr. Hun Sen’s official visits to Cuba, which marked a significant milestone in enhancing the relations between the two countries. These visits were instrumental in facilitating the signing of several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) in key areas such as agriculture, health, education, and sports, thereby broadening the scope of cooperation.

In 1999, Prime Minister Hun Sen traveled to Cuba, where he engaged in an extensive meeting with Fidel Castro that lasted over 10 hours. During this visit, he was honored with the José Martí Order, the most prestigious award bestowed by the Cuban government.

In 2022, Samdech Hun Sen made a diplomatic visit to Raúl Castro, the ex-President of Cuba and the younger sibling of Fidel Castro, the iconic Cuban leader who governed the nation from 1959 until 2008. This meeting took place at Raúl Castro’s home in Havana, Cuba.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed gratitude to Cuba for its support during Cambodia’s post-genocide period, highlighting the strong political relations between the two nations despite challenges. He recalled Cuba’s assistance in Cambodia’s fight against imperialism and genocide. 

During his visit to Cuba, Raúl Castro welcomed Hun Sen warmly, thanking him for his courtesy call and Cambodia’s donation of 6,000 tonnes of milled rice to Cuba. This gesture underscores the enduring friendship and mutual support between Cambodia and Cuba, reflecting their shared history and cooperation.

In a recent development that underscores the enduring friendship and cooperation between Cambodia and Cuba, Prime Minister Hun Manet of Cambodia and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez held a productive telephone conversation. This dialogue not only highlighted the historic ties between the two nations but also set the stage for future collaborations across various sectors.

Prime Minister Hun Manet and President Diaz-Canel Bermudez reflected on the longstanding relationship that has been nurtured over the years, acknowledging the mutual support provided in multilateral forums and the shared commitment to further bolster bilateral ties. The Cuban President extended his congratulations to Mr. Hun Manet on his recent election as Prime Minister and lauded the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for its accomplishments under the leadership of Mr. Hun Sen.

Prime Minister Hun Manet expressed his gratitude towards President Diaz-Canel Bermudez for initiating the call, which led to fruitful discussions and strengthened communication channels. He emphasized the historical solidarity between Cambodia and Cuba, especially highlighting Cuba’s support during Cambodia’s challenging times following the liberation from the Khmer Rouge regime.

Looking ahead, both leaders expressed support for conducting the third political consultation between their respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. This initiative aims to further solidify the bilateral relations through the signing of additional MoUs and agreements.

In an effort to enhance food security and foster economic cooperation, Cambodia has expressed interest in investing in rice production in Cuba. Minister of Agriculture, Forests, and Fisheries Dith Tina outlined plans for conducting feasibility studies to explore investment opportunities in rice cultivation, with Cuba being a primary target. This venture not only aims to bolster Cuba’s food security but also seeks to expand the international presence of Cambodian rice varieties.

The ambassadorial exchanges and high-level visits in recent years have played a pivotal role in deepening the bonds of friendship and cooperation between Cambodia and Cuba. As Ambassador Liurka Rodriguez Barrios concludes her mission, her contributions to strengthening Cambodian-Cuban relations stand as a reminder of the potential for positive change through diplomatic engagement. The ongoing commitment to healthcare cooperation, especially in the training of medical professionals, continues to build on the legacy of mutual support and solidarity.

As Cambodia and Cuba continue to explore new avenues for cooperation, the mutual commitment to supporting each other’s development and prosperity remains a cornerstone of their relationship. The ongoing dialogue and planned initiatives signify a promising future for the bilateral ties between these two nations, with a focus on sustainable development, inclusiveness, and resilience.

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