HAVANA, Cuba, CMC – The Fifth Caribbean Community (CARICOM)-Cuba summit opened here on Monday, with regional countries calling on the United States to and the decades old trade embargo against Havana.
CARICOM Chairman, Gaston Browne, told the summit now was the time for the United States President Barack Obama and Congress to end its “senseless embargo of Cuba now.”
Browne, who is also the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said that CARICOM’s solidarity with Cuba was manifested by the region’s repeated calls “in every council in every part of the world” for an end to the embargo.
Washington imposed the commercial, economic, and financial embargo against Havana in October 1960, almost two years after the Batista regime was deposed by the Cuban Revolution.
In 1962, the embargo was extended to include almost all imports.
Currently, the Cuban embargo is enforced mainly with six statutes including the Trading with Energy Act of 1917, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Cuba Assets Control Regulations of 1963 and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992.
Only the United States and a handful of countries continue to vote in favour of the embargo at the United Nations.
In his address to the summit, Prime Minister Browne noted that trade between the Caribbean and Cuba had grown, but was mindful of the challenges that existed for its expansion.
He referred to the work being done on a protocol to widen the existing trade and development agreement and stated he had no doubt that a mutually satisfactory result would be achieved.
He said practical machinery had to be established to expand trade and investment.
“Central to such machinery is effective and affordable transportation for the movement of goods and people between our countries. In this connection, I call on this Summit meeting to place high priority on creating mechanisms to move goods, services and passengers throughout our countries. I am convinced that if Cuba and CARICOM countries can jointly build a transportation network, all our economies will benefit,” he added.
“If Cuba and CARICOM countries can establish the air transportation links, and a network of collaboration between our hotels, multi-destination tourism – that offers the distinctiveness of our culturally-rich countries – could be a winner for all of us,” he said.
The CARICOM Chairman suggested that CARICOM and Cuba share their knowledge and experience in sports, particularly athletics.
He jokingly stated “that if we teach Cubans to play cricket, we might produce a Caribbean cricket team that would restore West Indian cricket to the heights it once majestically enjoyed”.
Prime Minister Browne said that areas for co-operation between CARICOM and Cuba existed at a broad level and it was up to “us to be creative and ingenious in the ways in which we bolster each other.”
“On matters such as climate change and global warming; on financial services and the dictates of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and development; on the marginalization of our concerns by the G20, we should be coordinating our positions and acting in unison. We may not be able to stand-up to them alone, but they cannot ignore us if we stand-up together,” Browne said.
Prime Minister Browne took the opportunity to express profound appreciation to the host for its role in the fight against Ebola disease.
“Cuban doctors, nurses and technicians have not only put their lives at risk to save lives in West Africa; they have saved lives around the world by helping to contain and control the spread of Ebola. They deserve our deep respect, our great gratitude and our enduring thanks,” he said.
Economic and trade relations are expected to dominate the summit, which was preceded Sunday by a meeting of foreign ministers.
In accordance with the Havana Declaration of December 2002, the Summit is held every three years on the date that the leaders of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago broke a diplomatic embargo and visited Cuba.
The two sides will also discuss strengthening co-operation in multi-lateral fora. This assumes added importance in light of the on-going global negotiations for a Climate Change Agreement and the upcoming negotiations on the United Nations Post 2015 Development Agenda, according to a Cuba government statement.
Meanwhile, Cuban President, Raul Castro Ruz, told CARICOM leaders that despite his country’s economic difficulties, “we will honour our pledge to co-operate and share our modest achievements with our sister nations in the Caribbean.”
He said, that as small island states and developing nations, the countries were facing the challenge of surviving and making progress in a world shaken by a number of crises.
Castro cited the global economic, financial, food and energy sectors, as well as deadly diseases and war and reiterated Cuba’s “unwavering decision” to support “under any circumstances” the right of small and vulnerable countries to be accorded special and different treatment in terms of access to trade and investments.
President Castro said the challenges of the 21st century were forcing “us to unite in order to face together the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and to co-ordinate our approach to the post 2015 Development Agenda.”
He noted particularly, the need “to tackle together the domination mechanisms imposed by the unfair international financial system.”
Regarding the impact of climate change, Castro said Cuba had conducted studies of dangers, vulnerabilities and risks and was already implementing a macro-project named Coastal Dangers and Vulnerabilities 2050-2100.
He offered to share the experience with CARICOM, as it included projects on the health condition of coastal dunes and mangroves as well as evaluation of the beaches, coastal settlements and infrastructure.
The President said CARICOM and Cuba shared a common history of colonialism, slavery and struggles for freedom, independence and development.
He said that was the melting pot where “our cultures have merged.” He recalled a statement by his predecessor, Fidel Castro, at the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the then four independent countries of the Community, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.