In June 2010, at a joint press conference in Perth, the foreign ministers of Australia and Cuba expressed their wish to work together in a range of areas, in particular health aid programs in the Pacific and Caribbean regions (AMFAT 2010). Australia-Cuba collaboration has its own logic: both countries have great capacity to assist the Pacific island nations, and there is always value to be found in genuine efforts at cooperation and complementarity. However the move also raises the question: how might these two very different systems work together, when they have such distinct aims and methods? Clearly there is some mutual goodwill, but effective collaboration requires some key accommodations between what could be called a ‘modified neo-liberal’ system of aid and one that emphasises building human capacity and public systems. What are these to be?
I suggest these questions are best understood through a comparative historical study of stated aims, underlying ideology, interest and action. Practical characterisation of the two countries’ health aid systems and their differences can help explain the possibilities and problems faced in collaboration. This article will therefore consider the history, ideas and character of the two systems, including their impact in the Pacific islands and Timor Leste, before returning to the challenges for this unlikely partnership.
Journal of Australian Political Economy, 73