This most recent impact of the 50-year-old United States embargo against the Government and people of Cuba exemplifies its continuing anachronistic nature. Moreover, in this instance, it has been more of an impact on Trinidad and Tobago, rather than President Raul Castro and his delegation, whom we welcome to these shores, his brother, Fidel, having preceded him by over 15 years. All that has been achieved here by the US law that prevents its companies from providing services to the Cuban Government is that the host country with a long-standing friendly relationship with the US has been made to scramble at the last minute to relocate the Caricom-Cuba conference from the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
It must be particularly displeasing too for the Government and people of T&T who own the Hilton facilities, although it is managed by an American chain, to have to be dictated to on T&T soil by an American law that has long passed its usefulness and is out of step with today's realities. Under the Helms-Burton legislation, any US company providing a service to the Cuban Government or a Cuban official is required to seek a licence from the US Government. While there may be historical antecedents that explain this intractably bitter approach, such measures are out of step because countries all over the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom and several European countries, have long been engaging with Cuba, many of them with investments there and their citizens taking vacations in Cuba.
So too has the United Nations General Assembly, for many decades now, been championing the cause of allowing Cuba to be relieved of this burden of the embargo. The reality is that countries all over the world, including the free west, have outstanding democracy deficits to answer for to the rest of the international community; an economic blockade against such countries would be deemed madness. Since 1972, Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and T&T have established relations with Havana in defiance of the US. Since then there has been much progress in trade relations and education, with large numbers of Caribbean students having studied in Cuba.
Almost every Caricom country has benefited from Cuban expertise in the field of health, with Cuban professionals also getting an opportunity to interact with their peers here in the Caribbean. In addition to the solidarity statements that usually emerge from conferences of this nature, it is expected that there will be discussions and hopefully significant advances in developing trade relations between Caricom and Cuba. Outside of this country's energy exports to Cuba, there is room for expanding the import and export trade between the two sides.
Expanding trade relations between Caricom and Cuba must be on the basis of a deep, mutual respect for property rights, respect for the sanctity and the applicability of contracts and proper arrangements for the repatriation of profits. Indeed, it was Cuba's nationalisation and seizure of property held by US citizens in the aftermath of the Cuba Revolution that is at the heart of the US embargo and all of the bitterness that has flowed between those two proud nations. The reality is that Cuba continues to emerge from the effects of the US embargo and obviously part of that emergence is bringing change to the political system that has existed in Cuba under the Castros.