For several weeks, Caribbean governments had been urging the Biden administration not to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from this month’s hemispheric summit, some even threatening a boycott if the U.S. persisted but from all indications, the region will have strong representation in California.
The leaders had discussed the possibility of staying away at two sessions in the last four months but backroom lobbying from the U.S. and open statements from Cuba and Nicaragua about their disinterest in attending might have paved the way for an ease of tensions and appears to have opened a door to those who had previously opposed attending if the three were shut out.
John Briceno, prime minister of Belize and chairperson of the 15-nation grouping until Suriname takes over in July, says it is in the best interest of the bloc to attend as there are some key issues the region wants to table. The conference, the ninth since the first in Florida under President Bill Clinton in 1994, starts next Monday and runs for the entire work week.
“After long discussions in Caricom, we’ve decided to allow countries who want to participate to attend this summit. I just checked with the Secretary General Carla Barnett and she said so far seven countries have already committed to going. So, Belize has, we have agreed that Belize will attend the summit. Many countries believe that it is in our interest to be able to attend,” Briceno told LoveFM radio at the weekend.
The chairman argues that the region needs help dealing with the various waves of the COVID virus and wants to talk about debt among many member states, as well as migration pressures involving Haitians and others.
But in a surprising development, he said that the region can take some credit for persuading Washington to ease economic and other pressures on Cuba thanks to backroom lobbying from Caricom in recent months.
Cuba and Caricom countries have enjoyed close relations for 50 years when Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados decided to ignore American urges to isolate the island and established diplomatic relations with Havana. Since then, thousands of Caribbean nations have studied medicine, engineering and other disciplines at Cuban schools on largely free scholarships, hence the region’s discomfort with Cuba being shut out.
“Because of the lobbying efforts that we’ve been doing on behalf of Cuba, that they’re starting to ease up some of the sanctions like allowing remittances to be able to go into Cuba, to allow more flights to be able to go to Cuba and probably even cruise ships that will be able to create more economic activities for their people. But, unfortunately, they [the U.S.] believe that at this point, they will not be able to invite Cuba,” Briceno said.
In the meantime, Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Monday that Washington was wrong to take the stance that it can cherry pick who should attend and who should not.
“That’s not his right to exclude anyone. That’s to be done in the whole of the Americas—he alone can’t make that decision. Whether we should be represented at any lower level is still up in the air.
As presently advised, I don’t see how we should go, but I will have further discussions with my cabinet colleagues and also with my colleague heads. I find it is a terrible idea to exclude people. We are still preoccupied with 20th-century conflicts, and battles in the 21st century. We have now entered the third decade of the 21st century and we have to resolve these problems,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves and Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua have said they are highly unlikely to attend.