Jul 12, 2018  Features / ColumnistsFreddie Kissoon

I visited Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital on Tuesday morning and this column is about two observations.
The first one is the influx of Cubans applying for American visas to travel to the U.S. The Georgetown Embassy is facilitating Cuban applicants because the Trump Administration has curtailed consular services in Havana.
Cubans then went to Colombia but that country has visa requirements for Cubans. Guyana does not. The U.S. then moved its service to Georgetown.
But though the no visa policy of Guyana is good for the Cubans, it has its downsides. Language is a problem.
I know a Cuban young man working in Guyana who speaks not a word of English. There are additional problems for the Cubans in Guyana. Readers can get the information by perusing the article from the Miami Herald by Doreen Hemlock of June 28, captioned; “Cubans are flocking to Guyana for economic reasons –but there’s a twist.”
I read that article before I saw the Cubans at the hospital and I felt sorry that they are in that plight.
To think they have to travel from Cuba way into Guyana, with a language problem and have to find money to stay in hotels.
Surely, the cruel Guyanese exploitation machinery is at work as the article implies. I am absolutely sure that those guest houses are overcharging these Cubans.
There were dozens and dozens of Cubans at the hospital who were waiting to take their medical. As I watch them going about their business, my heart went out to them. And that is because I am Guyanese. Guyanese have to travel to Suriname if they want an EU visa. It is not offered here.
06f7c9_fd0dba4a493841398f756a195c71d262Canada does not offer visa facilities in Guyana. Guyanese then should empathize with the Cubans. It is a hassle free process to just walk into a foreign embassy in your own country and apply for a visa.
I watched those Cubans queuing up outside the doctors’ doors and my mind went back to the bad days in the eighties when Guyanese were running all over world for a better life after Guyana began to suffer a devastating economic decline. Barbados and Trinidad began to mistreat Guyanese at their respective airports.
As my wife and I were at the airport in Trinidad in 1984, checking in for our flight to Guyana, there was a big rush towards us by Guyanese, mostly women, asking us to put foodstuff in our suitcases to take home to Guyana. At that time, there was no internet, so if you lived outside the Caribbean you were not aware of the “vendor phenomenon” that was sweeping Guyana. What I saw back then at the Trinidad airport was the “vendor phenomenon.” This was a group of people preserving the lifeblood of Guyana. They were bringing in all types of food items and related products that though available in any normal country, were totally non-existent in Guyana.
When I think of those days, I feel that I cannot be convinced to accept diaspora Guyanese filling vacancies that locals should be given.
The Cubans on Regent Street that I see daily remind me of the “vendor phenomenon” of the eighties. They are buying up stuff to take back to Cuba to sell, the identical thing that our vendors did almost forty years ago. I hope we treat the Cubans with immense hospitality as they wait in Georgetown for their appointment with the US Embassy.
One of the sad ironies of this country is that we were like the Cubans and Venezuelans forty years ago. And how do we treat the Venezuelans when they come here for food? Well, the least said of that the better.
Finally, I saw something at the Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital on Tuesday that is a tragic reflection of the failure of fifty-two years of Independence.
As I walked past the X-ray department, I saw about twenty Cubans in the waiting room. I went upstairs, came back down ten minutes after and the room was empty. Guess what happened. The X-ray technicians were taking three patients at a time. In a jiffy, twenty patients had their X-rays and were gone.
Go to the X-ray section (a part of the hospital that I seriously dread) of the Georgetown Hospital on any given day and you will see a waiting room of fifty persons with one technician at work. I saw that myself on three occasions. You go in the morning; you come out in the afternoon.
Just to remind you – both President and Prime Ministers went abroad recently for medical reasons.