December 10, 2004
Reflections on CARICOM, Cuba relations

by Maxwell Haywood

December 8, 2004 is CARICOM-Cuba Day. It was on this day in 1972 that four independent CARICOM member states (Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) established diplomatic relations with Cuba. Relations between Caribbean countries and Cuba have been slowly developing since 1959.{{more}}

Several mechanisms have been created to guide relations between CARICOM and Cuba. The CARICOM-Cuba Joint Commission was established in December 1993.

In addition, the Caribbean Trade and Investment Facilitation Office was established in March 2000 to forge closer cooperation between CARICOM and Cuba in order to build mutually beneficial economic and trade relations. In 2002, CARICOM and Cuba strengthened these relations by establishing CARICOM-Cuba Day, which will be marked on December 8 of each year.

Cuba has provided vital assistance to Caribbean countries in the areas of education, human resource development, medicine, science and technology, and natural disaster reduction and management. It is estimated that by the end of 2004, CARICOM and Cuba could further strengthen their economic and trade relations by bringing about tariff reduction covering many products.

In this regard, it is expected that CARICOM countries, especially those in the Eastern Caribbean, would have free access to the Cuban market without Cuba having free access to the market of Caribbean countries. In addition, recently, Cuba has offered to assist CARICOM countries to fight against HIV/AIDS by providing a centre for developing human resources that will be able to effectively tackle this deadly disease. It has also offered to supply CARICOM countries with generic anti-retroviral drugs at cheaper prices than those offered by transnational pharmaceutical corporations.

Cuba’s assistance to the Caribbean and many countries around the world has gone beyond mere promises. Noted Caribbean journalist Ricky Singh wrote sometime ago that, “The Cuban people have given a special meaning to ‘international solidarity’ that helps us and other people and developing nations to better appreciate what it means to give even if it hurts.”

Quantified in monetary terms, Cuban assistance “from military and construction brigades, to health, education, culture and sports personnel, engineers, electricians and more, would amount to billions of dollars since the dawn of the 1959 revolution”.

CARICOM has shown its appreciation for Cuba and has demonstrated its opposition to certain hostilities from other nations against Cuba. For instance, the Havana Declaration on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Member States of the Caribbean Community and the Republic of Cuba, adopted on 8 December 2002, called, once again, “… for the immediate lifting of the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against the Republic of Cuba, which is contrary to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter”.

It should not be hard to understand why Caribbean people desire to build closer links with the Cuban people. For over four decades, Cuba has been the only country in the Caribbean that has been providing for the basic needs of its people, regardless of income. As a developing nation, and as a result of the economic blockade, Cuba’s economy experiences much stress and difficulties.

But this has not prevented the Cuban Government from being committed in action to meeting the basic needs of the Cuban people.

Cuba has been able to provide its people with free access to quality health care and education. It has been providing work for all Cubans who are willing and able to work. In Cuba, homelessness is not an issue, and the state ensures that everyone has a roof over their heads. Violent crime is really not a serious issue in Cuba as much as it is a major issue for many Caribbean countries. Moreover, the people in Cuba generally understand their responsibilities to produce, so that they could sustain all these benefits.

As CARICOM countries continue to build their national capacity for development and negotiate their way through the difficult oceans of the international political economy, Cuba is a good source of experience, knowledge, skills and inspiration. Cuba has proven beyond a doubt that it is a friend in deed to Caribbean countries. Therefore, this friendship will hopefully be strengthened during the second summit of Heads of State and Governments of CARICOM and Cuba scheduled to take place in December 2005 in Barbados.

It is highly relevant for CARICOM to continue to deepen its links with the Cuban people, especially when seen in the context of Cuba’s outstanding achievements and assistance to financially poor developing countries and its need for international solidarity to prevent attacks from forces hostile to its existence as an alternative socio-economic system.

Editor’s note: This was submitted as a letter to the editor.