The Star Online | BY WONG SAI WAN
Cuba has bestowed the Order of Jose Marti, the nation’s highest award for foreign heads of states and governments, upon Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
President Fidel Castro, moving around in a wheelchair as he was recovering from a fall last month, presented the award to the Malaysian leader.
Castro was able to stand up with the aid of a walking stick when the national anthems of both countries were played.
Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, read out the citation before the award ceremony.
Cuban President Fidel Castro pinning the country’s highest award, the Order of Jose Marti, on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the Palace of Revolution in Havana on Wednesday. Abdullah who is on a three-day visit to Cuba, was bestowed the award after both leaders held discussions on bilateral and international issues.
He said Malaysia had a vibrant economy with sustainable growth and a very favourable trade balance.
“At the same time, Malaysia’s foreign policy has maintained its independence and Third World character,” he added.
On Abdullah, Alarcon said as the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Malaysian leader had made commendable efforts to meet the agreements reached at the movement’s 13th summit in Kuala Lumpur last year.
“Thanks to those efforts, the movement is today more dynamic,” he added.
Abdullah, in his acceptance speech, noted that other recipients of the order had included Nelson Mandela, Jiang Zemin and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Expressing that it was an honour for him, he pointed out that as recipients, they hoped to be worthy of the decoration, which is named after Cuba’s national hero.
“Jose Marti’s courageous life and writings have continued to inspire the people of Cuba and also the world.”
The Prime Minister, who arrived here on Wednesday for a three-day visit, said Malaysia and Cuba must continue to work closely with other members of the international community in promoting and strengthening multi-lateralism.
Abdullah and Castro later had a three-hour meeting where they agreed to improve ties between the two countries, especially in the fields of biotechnology, biomedicine, agriculture and education.
The meeting, which was also attended by delegates from both sides, was initially supposed to be for just an hour.
Abdullah told Malaysian journalists that the two countries’ joint commission on bilateral ties would work out the details on how cooperation in these fields could be improved.
“President Castro expressed great interest in the increased cooperation in these fields. We also agreed to form strategic cooperation. The commission will look into all these,” he said.