The Caricom community and Cuba leadership have both reinforced calls for the US to lift its longstanding trade embargo against Cuba.The calls came at yesterday's fourth Caricom-Cuba summit held at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port-of-Spain where Cuban President Raul Castro was the guest of honour.Both Castro and Caricom chairman St Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas made the calls to the US.
The T&T Government was forced to shift the venue for the function from the Hilton (Trinidad) since the US-managed hotel was unable to get the required licences from the US Government to host the Cuban delegation.The US has had a long-standing trade embargo against Cuba, reinforced in 1996 by the Helms-Burton law which prohibits any recognition of a Cuban transitional Government where Fidel-former President-or his brother Raul Castro are involved.
Speaking at yesterday's function, Caricom secretary general Irwin LaRocque noted that leaders of the regional grouping have returned to Port-of-Spain to mark the 39th anniversary of the declaration of relations between Caricom and Cuba.LaRocque said this was launched by the late leaders of T&T, Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana in 1972. Leaders have gathered triannually since then to mark Caricom-Cuba day on December 8, observing ties between both.
Caricom chairman St Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said the Caricom-Cuba relationship has remained robust. He noted the many areas of collaboration within the Caricom-Cuba relationship.Douglas said it was imperative to pool resources and stand behind common principles to advance objectives. He said those principles include adherence to the United Nations' Charter:
"For us, in particular, adherence to the principles of self-determination of peoples, of non-interference in the internal affairs of states and of upholding the rule of international law.""It is in keeping with these principles that Caricom has remained resolute in its firm stance of calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo of the Republic of Cuba," Douglas said."Caricom therefore takes the opportunity of this summit to again urge the government of the United States to lift with immediate effect, the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba."
Cuban President Raul Castro, speaking after Douglas, said Cuba will never forget the Caribbean nations' support to put an end to the US trade embargo started more than five decades ago.Castro said the embargo remained basically unchanged. He said the measures publicised by the US from the Bush administration had not gone beyond a partial relaxation of the restrictions limiting remittances and travel to the island, of Cuban citizens living in the US.
"The expectations of the so-called 2009 Summit of the Americas held in this city (Port-of-Spain) have failed to rise above the rhetoric," he said.US President Barack Obama had attended the Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain in 2009.Castro also said Latin American was moving to a new form of integration. He said the movement was on the right track and Cuba believed that Caricom's interests must be espoused in the movement. He also called for continued efforts to assist Haiti's reconstruction.Castro devoted a significant portion of his lengthy address to speaking about the problems his country is suffering from climate change. He said that by 2050, parts of south-western Cuba would be gone because of coastal erosion.
T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in her address, also noted that all Caricom members voted consistently on various occasions over the years in favour of the annual UN General Assembly Resolution which called for an end to the trade embargo and blockade of Cuba. She said this was no different in October when 186 states voted in support of the resolution.Persad- Bissessar said Caricom had demonstrated its commitment in this regard."I admire the generosity and sense of kinship of the Government and people of Cuba, who despite their own economic and financial challenges are still imbued with a sense of kindness unmatched even among those countries which are better circumstanced," she said.
The PM said the region must breathe new life into the Caricom-Cuba Joint Commission to fulfill the mandate of its mission. This was to be examined to see if any of the agreements in the framework need to be streamlined.Persad-Bissessar reaffirmed the regional move towards South-South co-operation. She said while the region should maintain its northern ties, it should also start looking away from the north since the South-South direction is the future.On the US/Hilton issue, Persad- Bissessar, speaking to reporters after the summit, denied that the application to use the Hilton for the summit was sent late.Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan said the contract was signed with the Hilton on October 24.Persad-Bissessar added: "There was no way it was too late...How can October be too late."