CARICOM-Cuba hail strong relations

BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 12/20/2012, 3:56 p.m.

Forty years ago this month, four Caribbean trade bloc nations decided to defy the U.S. and break the hemispheric isolation of Cuba by establishing diplomatic relations with the communist-ruled fellow Caribbean island, making it easier for other nations in Latin America and the region to follow suit.

At the time, the leaders of Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados said they had had enough of American threats of punitive action if they had ever dared to join Mexico as one of the few nations that had any dealings with Havana.

What they did on Dec. 8, 1972, is now history. Kenneth Anthony, prime minister of St. Lucia and outgoing chairman of the 15-nation community, this week hailed the increasingly strong relations between Cuba and its mostly English-speaking Caribbean neighbors, calling the move by the four then prime ministers "a bold and historic step that had taken the two sides along the path of a rewarding partnership with mutual benefits."

As more and more nations signed on diplomatically with Cuba, Washington's apparent resolve to threaten them with sanctions appeared to have waned, especially so in light of Cuba's still infant steps to open up its economy and allow free travel and private enterprise to begin flourishing among other reforms.

Over the years, thousands of Caribbean nationals have benefited from free scholarships to Cuba, many of them training as doctors, nurses, engineers and pilots, while Cuba has in return sent thousands of doctors, nurses and medical professionals to work for stipends on two-year rotations in the region--a point Anthony made in his 40th anniversary note this week.

"The benefits of the cooperation have rebounded throughout the community, whether it was through the provision by Cuba of scholarships or technical assistance in the education, health, sport and cultural sectors. These initiatives have had a positive impact on the ground in our member states and have brought our countries even closer," he said.

Hinting at the decades of regional defiance since 1972, Anthony said countries have "maintained their unflinching support for the Republic of Cuba in various international fora and take great pride in being pioneers in this hemisphere with respect to the recognition of Cuba as an integral part of our vibrant and diverse Caribbean region and our hemisphere."

An example of this is the annual vote at the U.N. General Assembly to end the decades-long American economic blockade against Cuba. The region is known to vote overwhelmingly against it, clearly telling the U.S. which side it is backing.

Additionally, Cuba has all but joined the bloc as a member, as it has a free trade agreement covering more than 500 special treatment items and is included in much of the activities of CARICOM.

To many on both sides, there is no need to push any further, as the trade deal is regarded as the functional icing on the cake of relations between the two.