Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, says Cuba has been and continues to be “a most valued and highly respected brother on the Latin American and Caribbean landscape and beyond”. He praised Cuba’s invaluable assistance and co-operation towards developing countries, despite the country’s difficulties and challenges. The Minister was speaking at a reception to mark Cuba’s National Day, held on January 16 at the Cuban Ambassador’s residence in Kingston. Senator Nicholson said that Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude for the continuous support rendered to the country by Cuba in the fields of education, health, agriculture and culture. Meanwhile, Cuba’s Ambassador, Yuri Gala Lopez, said his country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to increase to 3.7 per cent in 2013. “Despite the tensions associated with the global economic and financial crisis and other external challenges, the Cuban economy was expected to close in 2012 with a 3.1 per cent growth of its Gross Domestic Product. For 2013, Cuba foresees a 3.7 GDP growth,” Ambassador Gala said. The Ambassador said Cuba is gradually recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in October. He pointed out that Cuba continues to enjoy diplomatic relations with over 180 countries, and that “we keep receiving the moral support of many governments and peoples of the world in our denunciation of the five decade-old blockade.” The Ambassador informed the large gathering that Cuba will assume chairmanship of the 33-country Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at a CELAC-European Union summit in Chile at the end of this month. The function was also attended by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller; former Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson; and members of the Diplomatic Corps.