Another CARICOM-Cuba summit, the sixth, has recently ended in Antigua and Barbuda. These summits followed the establishment of diplomatic relations between four independent Caribbean countries forty-plus years ago, all former colonies of England. They were Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The diplomatic relations with Cuba were established on December 8, 1972 and the first summit held on December 8, 2002. These summits are held every three years and alternate between a CARICOM State and Cuba.
Caribbean students, young professionals and aspiring politicians ought to reflect on the vision, courage and determination it took leaders Barrow, Burnham, Manley and Williams to seek greater cooperation with Cuba, at the time they did. Their decision had seemed a slap in the face of the US whose relationship with Cuba had soured and on whom the economic survival of the four depended. At the setting up of diplomatic relations with Cuba neither the Caribbean nor Cuba had much to offer each other by way of economic assistance. The issue with the Caribbean leaders was solidarity, based on moral grounds, while standing up to the principles of the United Nations charter. There was also the consideration of the common history and struggles of the Cuban and Caribbean peoples.
There was no rush by these Caribbean leaders to a free meal, or to free handouts from countries that could afford. Indeed, there was little more in the new CARICOM-Cuba relationship to recommend itself than the principled stand taken by Fidel Castro in relation to political independence and assistance to colonies and former colonies fighting to free themselves from colonialism, poverty and backwardness.
In contrast, later Caribbean prime ministers had clearly decided that naked pragmatism was more likely to put dinner on the table and they chose it above dignity and pride and principles. In a sense the thinking of many of today’s Caribbean politicians has changed for the worst. These modern day politicians seem to carry with them the mentality of the ghetto which knows the price of every cell phone and Nike and the cost of nothing. Who shall extricate the people from the state of mental dependence in search of political nirvana? Who shall teach them to look at economic development, racism and progress with new emancipated eyes?
The recent summit on December 8, 2017 confirmed the need for unity and peace in our region to achieve sustainable development. A memorandum on multi-destination tourism was signed between the CARICOM member countries and Cuba to increase the exchange in this sector in order to favour regional economic growth. Another memorandum agreed to joint efforts between the emergency management and disaster risk reduction of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Civil Defense of Cuba. The meeting also discussed cooperation in the areas of research and development, food security, the possibility of joint actions to strengthen national security, and the promotion of trade, alongside the agreement signed between CARICOM and Cuba in November 2017.
Furthermore, the importance of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) as a forum for dialogue and as an international political actor was recognized. It was ratified that CARICOM and Cuba will seek greater international support for the development of the Caribbean and that the joint effort to rebuild the countries damaged by hurricanes will continue.
The day following the summit a session of the OECS Assembly was held in Antigua in which friendship and fraternity with Cuba was demonstrated.
Cuba considers it a duty to continue sharing its modest achievements with the Caribbean. 5,432 Caribbean students have graduated in Cuba and 723 are studying at this time. 1,762 Cubans now work in the Caribbean as part of international cooperation programmes, most of them in the health sector. It was agreed that the 7th CARICOM-Cuba Summit will be held in Havana on December 8, 2020.
Asked to comment on the Antigua meetings which he attended, Cuba Ambassador Jorge Soberon based in Saint Lucia said: “Once again, the solidity and potential of the links between the CARICOM countries and CUBA is evident. New agreements were reached on essential issues for our region. We will work to implement them for the benefit of our peoples, which are our greatest strength. Unity, peace and integration is the way out before the challenge of survival and development. Cuba will always defend the rights of the CARICOM countries as its own.”
Indeed, unity, peace and integration are the smart way forward before CARICOM properly tackles the challenge of survival and development. The emergence of an extreme protectionist policy in Washington DC arising from the last presidential elections (and Brexit before it) must have sent alarm bells to the remaining doubting Thomases. The lessons of history are too clear to be neglected by present and emerging political leaders in CARICOM and Cuba. The era of the Castro brothers may be at an end but no one will ever doubt the resolve of the people of Cuba to honour these two and the Cuba revolution.
It must be the hope and prayer of the Caribbean peoples that a sturdier and more resolute political leadership should emerge to guide the destiny of these poor, disparate countries. Closer bonds of unity wherein all progress and benefit are necessary and essential, must continue to be forged. Citizens who may feel trapped and left behind in stagnant economies will find ways and means of reaching places that offer better prospects for a rewarding life. People will never change in their quest for a better life. Politicians must understand that and change to meet the needs of the people, not the other way. We therefore wish the CARICOM-Cuba relationship continued growth and success.