Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders on Wednesday welcomed the new chapter in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba with St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves describing the event as one “’of earth shattering proportions”.
President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as well as an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba, declaring an end to America’s “outdated approach” to the communist island in a historic shift that aims to bring an end to a half-century of Cold War enmity.
Obama and the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, made simultaneous announcements in their respective capitals announcing the moves to normalise the diplomatic relations that were broken after Fidel Castro established the first communist state in the Western hemisphere after leading an overthrow of the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Washington imposed a trade and economic embargo on the island following the move by Castro and Caribbean governments joined several international countries in denouncing the move.
Obama said Washington will also open an embassy in Havana in the coming months and the moves on Wednesday were part of a deal that saw the release of American Alan Gross by Cuba and the release of three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.
Obama hailed the move as the “most significant changes in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years”.
Prime Minister Gonsalves, who over the years has developed close ties with both Venezuela and Cuba, said while there were still several issues still be to ironed out, “many of the things which President Obama has spoken about …are inside the CUBA-CARICOM communiqué of last week and the ALBA summit of Sunday”.
He said he had longed for the day when the fracturing of the Western hemisphere would be healed and that it appears that there is a dramatic commencement of that healing.
“This is a day of great rejoicing,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was now looking forward to the Summit of the Americas in Panama where both Cuba and the United States would be represented by their heads of state.
“It will be wonderful for us to be at the Summit of the Americas and it is almost too good to believe it is true to see the President of the United States and the President of Cuba sitting down in the hemispheric family like that … it is a day in which I look forward to and I hope the good Lord keeps me to see that situation,” Gonsalves told Parliament on Wednesday.
He sought an early adjournment of Parliament as he said Kingstown had to be kept abreast of the “event of earth shaking proportions”.Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said he too was looking forward to “a deepening of that relationship”.
St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister, Dr. Denzil Douglas, also welcomed the announcement of improved relations between Cuba and the United States saying Basseterre joined with governments the world over in long asserting “that the half-century old policy of the United States toward Cuba advanced the interests of neither the United States nor those of the Cuban people.
“The decision of the United States to no longer be the only country on earth dedicated to the isolation of Cuba is therefore a most welcome development in the eyes of the international community. It reflects the determination of the Obama administration to steadfastly and meticulously re-examine and re-cast policies that do not work, and to do so in the interest of advancing global peace and stability. For this, President Obama deserves great praise.”
Prime Minister Douglas said that his twin island Federation had benefitted from many years of constructive bilateral relations with Cuba, “and we look forward to witnessing the benefits that are sure to accrue to the Governments and peoples of both the United States and Cuba as a result of this historic decision”.
Grenada’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, said he was elated at the development.
“Today is a historic day in the life of the Cuban people. Today, the United States has answered the call of humanity. Today, the United States has finally heard what Caribbean leaders have always said, and what has been proven: their decades’ long policy of isolationism of Cuba has not worked. It is way past time to remove the embargo. It is the progressive, wise and right thing to do.
“The modern day realities of globalization demand that this be done. Cuba, too, understands that they need to move with the times,” Mitchell said, recalling his remarks at the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) summit in Cuba, when he reiterated the region’s collective gratitude to Cuba for its contribution to regional development, and called for the United States to remove the more than five decades old embargo on Cuba.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, said she welcomed the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and that Port of Spain had over the years called for an end to the trade embargo.
In a statement she recalled her address to the United Nations General Assembly in September where she noted that “on the point of a revitalised global partnership in support of sustainable development, I would wish to strongly reiterate the support of Trinidad and Tobago for an end to the economic embargo against Cuba.”
She said, “Today’s announcement by President Obama and President Castro is a huge leap in a positive direction. Socially, economically, geographically, we are all joined in a common mission of a better and more secure life for our people.
“After almost half a century, two very close neighbours have started talking again and we can expect a great deal of benefit to redound to the people of both nations and indeed to the entire region,” Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar added.
The government of Guyana said it too welcomed the decision and views this as a progressive step towards the development of constructive relations between the United States of America and Cuba which will redound to the benefit of these two countries and the hemisphere as whole.
“The Government wishes to congratulate President Obama on this brave and just decision and hopes that these actions will lead to an early end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade which the United States of America has pursued for the last 54 years against the Cuban people. It is our hope that the measures announced will be implemented without any hindrance.
“We congratulate and salute President Raul Castro on the headways made which were no doubt occasioned by his continued willingness to dialogue with President Barack Obama.
“We also wish to acknowledge the critical role played by Pope Francis and the Vatican and the Government of Canada in facilitating the discussions between the United States of America and Cuba which have resulted in this promising end,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
In a statement, the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat said it welcomed the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba and the move towards the re-establishment of diplomatic ties.
“CARICOM has long been an advocate for the normalisation of these relations and has raised the issue repeatedly in its interaction with both parties,” CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque said.
“Today’s announcement signals the beginning of a new era in our hemisphere and demonstrates the value of dialogue as a means of settling differences. The Community commends presidents Obama and Castro for their bold initiative.
Both Cuba and the United Sates have played major roles in assisting the development efforts of our member states and we look forward to working together with them as they move forward in building their relationship.”
But he said while CARICOM welcomes this positive development, “the Community looks forward to further steps being taken with despatch towards the lifting of the economic, trade and financial embargo”.
In his address, President Obama announced measures that he said would end an “outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests”.
The plans set out by Washington include reviewing the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, easing a travel ban for US citizens, easing financial restrictions, and increasing telecommunications links and efforts to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo.
Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, in welcoming the new initiative congratulated President Obama “for having taken these historic steps, as necessary as they are courageous, to restore diplomatic relations broken off in 1961.
“This is a decision of great vision on both sides because this conflict, which has significant negative implications for citizens of both countries, had stagnated politically for too long,” he said.
The Secretary General said, “The measures announced today open a path to normalization from which there is no return,” and asked the United States Congress to “take the necessary legislative measures to lift the embargo against Cuba which remains in force.
“President Obama has been clear about the need to change a policy that produced neither benefits nor results for 50 years, and only complicated the lives of millions of citizens. We hope that Congress understands this as well.”
The head of the OAS expressed his happiness at the release of Alan Gross, as well as Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, saying that their imprisonment “was the product of a past that should not return.”
Secretary General Insulza also praised “the role of the international community in facilitating talks between Washington and Havana” and urged both governments “to continue to rely on their neighbours and friends to continue reaching agreements leading to full normalization of contacts between two key countries of these, our Americas”.