KUALA LUMPUR: Carlos A Amores is planning a trip to Johor Baharu in late February as Cuba and Malaysia celebrate the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.
For the first time, he will visit the Tanjung Kupang Memorial for victims of the 1977 Malaysia Airlines flight 653 crash in which all 93 passengers and seven crew perished.
Among the victims were Mario Garcia, the Cuban ambassador to Japan who was accredited to Malaysia at that time, and his wife.
“We intend to pay our respects by visiting the memorial. It is a very special link,” said Amores, the Cuban envoy to Malaysia and third resident ambassador here.
Come Feb 6, Cuba and Malaysia formally celebrate 35 years of ties.
“Being close friends, I am very sure that our relations will remain strong and grow more and more in the coming years. In this respect, I think Cuba-Malaysia relations is a (role) model for South-South cooperation,” said Amores in an interview with Bernama at his embassy.
Havana and Kuala Lumpur sealed ties in 1975, at the time of the Cold War ideological divide, and have moved forward to enjoy increasingly fruitful and meaningful relations in many areas, be it politics, economics, trade, medical, education, sports and people-to-people relations.
Amores, 43, said that bilateral relations picked up, especially at the political level in the 90s that saw Cuba open its embassy in Kuala Lumpur in 1997, and Malaysia followed by setting up an embassy in Havana in February 2001.
He attributed this to the exchange of high-level visits, first by Malaysia’s then-prime minister, (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Cuba in 1997 and 2000, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro to Malaysia in 2001 and again, in 2003, for the Non-Aligned Movement Summit.
During Castro’s 2001 visit, the two countries inked commercial, economic, and scientific technical exchange agreements.
The momentum was sustained by Dr Mahathir’s successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, visiting Cuba in 2004 and in 2006, for the NAM Summit while current Cuban President Raul Castro came to Malaysia in 2005, when he was first vice-president.
“I think these high-level visits underscore the importance of our relationship and was the basis of the new era in our diplomatic relations, and this is why we were able to identify programmes and projects for mutual benefit,” said Amores.
Havana and Kuala Lumpur, he said, shared similar views on many issues besetting the developing world and the international community which brought them closer at NAM, the United Nations and Group of 77 developing nations.
Amores is optimistic that economic ties would pick up as well, and expected trade ties to be strengthened.
Although there is no direct Malaysian investment in the Caribbean island republic of about 11.5 million people, Cuba and Malaysia are jointly undertaking projects in pharmaceutical and bio-technology sectors which Cuba is renowned for.
Cuba’s world-famous cigars and Hepatitis B vaccine are its main exports to Malaysia and imports food, furniture and computer products from Malaysia.
The national oil companies of the two countries, Cubapetroleo and Petronas, are in joint exploration for oil and natural gas in Cuban waters.
Amores encouraged Malaysian investment in Cuban tourism and listed education and sports as other areas in which the two countries could step up cooperation.
There are 21 Malaysian students in Cuba, all except one pursuing medicine on full scholarship from the Cuban government.
On the other hand, Cuba had benefited from the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme, said Amores.
Cuba is giving priority to forging stronger people-to-people and cultural ties, and for this, has brought in Cuban music bands, art exhibitions and organised cultural events.
“If you ask anyone in Cuba about Malaysia, they will say they know about Malaysia. We feel the friendship and the good attitude of the Malaysian people towards Cuba,” said Amores. — Bernama