ALL AH WE IS ONE: Cuba and Caricom
Saturday, December 8, 2012, marked the 40th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and four independent countries of CARICOM: Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. While the date normally goes unheralded in the anglophone Caribbean, the deeper level of historical and political consciousness among the Cuban populace has resulted in greater reverence for the occasion in Cuba itself.
Indeed, as a young attaché to the Prime Minister of St Lucia, Kenny Anthony, ten years ago, my eyes were abruptly opened to the depth of appreciation that the Cuban government felt to the four Caribbean governments that had initiated diplomatic relations, when the entire CARICOM was invited to a special summit to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cuba-CARICOM relations.
It was a summit filled with significance, and was marked particularly by the Cubans’ appreciation of the fact that as newly independent powers, the Caribbean governments had taken a decisive step in breaking the future of isolation and ostracism that would have been Cuba’s fate had these Caribbean states allowed themselves to be cowed by the spoken and unspoken signals of the dominant hemispheric powers overtly hostile to the Cuban revolution.
It was a signal of the ideological clarity, the respect for self-determination, and the instinctive Caribbean consciousness of Messrs Williams, Barrow, Manley and Burnham that very early in their lives as leaders of independent Caribbean states, they understood the necessity of recognizing a place for Cuba in the Caribbean family of nations, and were willing to act in conformity with such recognition. It is no wonder then that the Cubans have been effusive in their acknowledgement of Caribbean solidarity.
Despite the Cubans’ liberal show of gratitude, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is the anglophone Caribbean which has been the greater beneficiary of the relationship. A casual quantification in dollar terms of the level of Cuban assistance in education, health, agriculture, sports, culture and other technical support would confirm this reality.
Indeed, had our Caribbean private sector not been so constrained by ideology, and had the United States embargo not been so rigidly enforced, far greater business ventures beneficial to the region would have accrued from the established relations.
At a more philosophical level, Cuba’s example of self-sufficiency and self-determination is invaluable to a region that is often unaware of its possibilities and potential.
These concerns are often forgotten by those who question CARICOM-Cuba relations, as in the ongoing debate about Barbados’ responsibility towards “stateless” Cuban ex-convict Raul Garcia.
Often ignored are considerations of the necessary, but small, acts of solidarity which our countries can offer to Cuba, in lieu of greater levels of material support.
As Cuba undergoes perhaps its most significant transformations, and as its inhumane isolation is reversed, may CARICOM deepen its solidarity and friendship in this delicate period.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.