CARICOM turns up heat on frosty US/ Cuba relations

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By Vishani Ragobeer in Los Angeles

Vishani@newsroom.gy

Cuba shares close ties with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and as hemispheric leaders gathered in Los Angeles, California for the IX Summit of the Americas, Caribbean leaders fiercely advocated for improved US/ Cuba relations.

Prime Minister of Belize John Briceño, one of the first leaders to address the Summit on Thursday last, emphatically stated that the tense relations between the United States (US) and Cuba should be resolved at soonest, and “bonds of friendship” should be built instead.

Briceño, who is also the current Chairman of CARICOM, acknowledged that Cuba provides substantial support to countries of the region even as its people continue to suffer because of a US blockade on the country.

Cuban and Venezuela protestors outside the LA Convention Centre (Photo: News Room)

Caribbean countries, including Guyana, have maintained good relations with Cuba. Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali told the News Room on the sidelines of the Summit that Guyana has benefited significantly from Cuban support in the health sector, for example.

As such, the Guyanese Head of State joined his regional counterparts in advocating for improved US/ Cuba relations. According to him, if those relations improve, the entire region would benefit.

The US and Cuba have maintained a strained relationship for decades now, following the Cuban revolution in the 1950s.

And the US, which was the host for this year’s Summit, opted to exclude leaders from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua due to concerns of undemocratic governance and human rights violations.

This triggered a boycott of the Summit by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. CARICOM leaders also mulled a boycott but many of them, ultimately, attended.

Even so, CARICOM leaders did not hesitate to register their disapproval of that decision.

Prime Minister Briceño, for example, stated that the “power of the summit” was diminished by the countries’ absence.

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, during her address on Friday, stated that even if countries disagree on political ideology, the Summit should remain a space for leaders to “talk with each other” on improving the lives of people in the Americas.

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne added his voice to CARICOM’s position, contending that no country in future should have the ability to decide which countries of the Americas attend a Summit crafted for all.

With Caribbean countries seemingly united in their advocacy for improved relations among the US and Cuba in particular, Prime Minister Mottley later said that there has been progress in this regard.

Speaking at a Guyana diaspora mixer on Friday night, after the Summit’s conclusion, the Prime Minister alluded to further progress on easing the blockade in Cuba.

“We understand the real reality of local politics [in the US] but we understand that there must be a commitment to move forward and therefore, the opening up of remittances and the opening up of travel and ensuring we can see a positive difference going forward is something we will also hold the US to,” Prime Minister Mottley said on Friday.

CARICOM, she said, is an “important voice” in advocating on Cuba’s behalf.

Relations between the US and Cuba appeared to improve after the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama when Cuban leader Raul Castro met and shook hands with then US President Barack Obama.

Obama’s successor, now Former President Donald Trump, imposed restrictions meant to impose economic pressure on the Cuban government. But some of those measures have been retracted by Joseph Biden, the current US President.

The Biden administration revoked some flight restrictions and has pledged to lift the cap on family remittances to Cuba and will allow American groups to visit the island on educational trips.

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