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The Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit: Twelve Years of Approximation

Wayne JumatOn the 7th December 2014, twelve years after the first Cuba-CARICOM Summit, the 118th anniversary of the death of Antonio Maceo, the Cuban Independence leader was observed at the Cacahual Monument by leaders from Caribbean states on the eve of the Fifth Summit of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which took place in Havana, on the 8th December 2014. The remains of the independence hero lay together with the remains of Francisco Gómez Toro "Panchito," battle partner of Maceo, who also died on December 7, 1898.

Furthermore, the commemoration of the 25 anniversary of Operation Tribute, also took place, in honour of Cuba's fallen soldiers who was involved in Africa's liberation struggles. While these commemorations show significant ideological cohesiveness in the belief of the need for Caribbean unity and the historical and contemporary role and importance of Africa for the Caribbean, it does not really say much about where or why the CARICOM-Cuba mechanism came about, and what it intends on achieving or pursuing.

In this regard, the First Summit will be used as the base benchmark with which to gauge the interests and targeted outcomes pursued as well as Cuba's evolution within this mechanism. The Fifth Summit will also be discussed briefly, as it relates to CARICOM's relations with Cuba.

CARICOM, created in 1973 when Trinidad and Tobago signed the Chaguaramas Treaty that replaced the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) of 1968, was to function as a trade organisation amongst Caribbean states promoting economic integration, developmental planning, the establishment of a common market, and the coordination of foreign policy. The current member states of CARICOM are: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Notably, since 2002 CARICOM member states have come together for a Summit every three years in accordance with the Havana Declaration of December 2002, which includes increasing Cuban participation in the organisational processes of CARICOM through the CARICOM-Cuba mechanism.

The first CARICOM-Cuba summit in 2002 was in commemoration of thirty years of diplomatic relations between Havana and its Caribbean neighbours, with a point of departure in 1972 that saw Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago rebuffing the United States' diplomatic pressure not to establish these relations. Cuba's recent inclusion and integration in CARICOM, through the CARICOM-Cuba mechanism, came as a result of these actions taken by the leaders of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The December 8th has been designated CARICOM-Cuba Day ever since.

Some of the outcomes of the First Summit revolved around issues of CARICOM establishing relations with Cuba, Cuba's contribution within the Caribbean such as health and education programmes, Cuba's economic insertion into the Caribbean and the world, lifting the embargo placed on Cuba by the United States, and lastly the CARICOM-Cuba day on the 8th December as well as the hosting of a CARICOM-Cuba summit every three years. Additionally, Cuba's contribution towards health, solidarity and safety within the Caribbean also assumes the form of natural disaster relief and missions.

The First Summit also noted that Cuba's involvement in the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery pursues a rules based multilateral trading system that is considerate of Small developing, island and coastal states. The Summit also allowed some states to express their appreciation for Cuba's offer to provide the necessary expertise for the establishment of a "technical teaching centre for nursing" and other medical specialties, with a capacity to prepare up to two hundred professionals from CARICOM state with particular experience in dealing with HIV/AIDS.

The Fifth Summit commemorating the 25th anniversary of Operation Tribute was initiated in 1989 as a remembrance day for the fallen Cuban soldiers, who died fighting for the independence of states in southern Africa. The commemoration of these events signifies: Cuba's history as a country acting in the interest of those it perceives to be oppressed, Cuba's linkages with Africa (whether historic, economic, political or social), and Cuba and CARICOM member states' commonalities and the view that Africa is significant in the strategic calculations of the Caribbean in general.

The Fifth Cuba-CARICOM Summit amongst other objectives has the unambiguous aim of strengthening the Cuba-Caribbean cooperation broadly by having discussions on initiatives related to education, health, poverty reduction, culture, sports, and climate change. Additionally, talks also focused on a common Caribbean position on the United Nations' Post-2015 Development Agenda, the consolidation of the institutional and organisational mechanisms of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), trade and investment issues, education ties, as well as a review of the present situation of the CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Agreement signed in 2000.

Appreciably the CARICOM-Cuba Declaration of Havana 2014 also reiterates the need for Caribbean states to pursue collective efforts aimed at improving the quality of life of its people, productivity, infrastructure, and air and sea connectivity. For example, Grenada's Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, in one of the most recent displays of CARICOM-Cuban solidarity, expressed his appreciation of Cuba's contribution to health and education projects in the region, on the 6th December 2014. This displays the sincerity of the CARICOM member states and Cuba in their attempts to grapple with issues surrounding the ocean economy.

Significant interest in Cuba's rights as a state has continued to be generated, from the First Summit, and this was demonstrated by Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, the current Chairman of CARICOM, when he stated that the US had put in place a "senseless embargo of Cuba" and that CARICOM's solidarity with Cuba will continue to be pursued until the end of an embargo has been achieved. Grenada's Prime Minister Keith Mitchell also noted that Grenada would aid in challenging the US imposed Cuban embargo, in international forums. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also expressed his desire for an end to the Cuban embargo, stating that "in this globalized world" it is necessary to "address international issues affecting our hemisphere"

In order to address some of the challenges faced and objectives committed to, an agreement was placed in the Declaration of Havana in the Occasion of the Fifth CARICOM-Cuba Summit (2014), that the Sixth CARICOM-Cuba Summit in 2017 would be hosted in Antigua and Barbuda.

The First CARICOM-Cuba Summit focused on the establishment of formal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba by CARICOM member states in 1972, Cuba's willing participation within the Caribbean through various health and education programmes, Cuba's economic insertion into the Caribbean and the world, lifting the embargo placed on Cuba by the United States, and lastly an agreement that CARICOM-Cuba day on the 8th December as well as the hosting of a CARICOM-Cuba summit every three years.

Twelve years on and the focus of the summit had shifted primarily towards lifting the embargo that Cuba faces, Cuban cooperation in the Caribbean particularly in respect of health and education, and the growing role of CELAC in Latin American political coordination and integration for the region. The achievements of the CARICOM-Cuba mechanism, from 2002 until 2014, has generally been viewed in a positive light as a catalyst for greater development within the Caribbean in respect of infrastructure, health, quality of life and political and economic integration.

Wayne Jumat is a Research Assistant at Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGDA

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