Cuban Foreign Ministry interim director general for Latin America and the Caribbean, Carlos Rafael Zamora Rodríguez. Photo: Yaimí Ravelo

The First Association of Caribbean States (ACS-AEC) Cooperation Conference, organized by the ACS-AEC Secretary General and Cuba, which currently occupies the bloc’s Ministerial Council pro tempore presidency, will be held March 8.

In the lead up to this event Cubaminrex took the opportunity to speak exclusively with Carlos Rafael Zamora Rodríguez, Cuban Foreign Ministry interim director general for Latin America and the Caribbean.

How important is cooperation for ACS-AEC member states?

As stated in the Convention Establishing the Association of Caribbean States, its primary purpose is to be an organization for consultation, cooperation, and concerted action. Adopted in the inaugural Summit, which took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in August 1995, was the Declaration of Principles of the ACS-AEC, which established tourism, trade, and transport as priority spheres, around which cooperation strategies would be developed. Introduced later was disaster risk reduction, while climate change was added during the June 2016 Havana Summit, demonstrating the importance of such issues for countries in the Caribbean region. These represent the five priority pillars which serve as the cornerstone to ACS-AEC cooperation programs.

This historical overview shows, that since its beginnings, the Association has prioritized cooperation relations between its members as a way to contribute to the development of our countries.

The ACS-AEC offers a space where Caribbean island states and continental nations, including, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and those from Central America can discuss and exchange experiences, knowledge, and technologies.

Although we are considered to be developing nations from an economic point of view, between us all we possess vast cultural and scientific potential, as well as important natural resources, which if shared, could provide significant benefits.

What challenges does the Caribbean region face to achieve more comprehensive cooperation, focused on sustainable development and the interests of the peoples?

The economies of the Caribbean Community Market (CARICOM) member states are heterogeneous, with asymmetries and a great deal of internal fragility and external threats. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Caribbean’s main problem is its unsustainable level of accumulated debt. In 2016 the area’s total debt amounted to over 69.6% of sub-regional Gross Domestic Product.

The increase in threats to regional security such as trafficking in drugs and persons, arms smuggling and terrorism, has been highlighted by CARICOM as extremely detrimental to social stability and risk perception in the region.

These phenomena have had a negative impact on the regional financial situation, accentuating the view of the area as a high-risk zone, which contributes to the negative ratings Caribbean economies receive from international financial institutions.

The Caribbean has experienced difficulties in gaining access to financing as some countries in the region are considered middle income economies, which is calculated on the basis of superficial criteria such as per capita income. The situation is further exacerbated by the inclusion of certain Caribbean nations on the unilateral list of tax havens.

Another negative aspect is countries’ increased exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters. According to the Caribbean Development Bank, from 1988-2012, material losses in this regard exceeded 18 trillion USD.

The Republic of Haiti is a prime example of the aforementioned problem. The impact of Hurricane Matthew brought the country to the world’s attention. In response to this disaster and the threat of the outbreak of disease, Cuba sent the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Serious Epidemics, which for two months, offered medical services in the most severely affected zones.

In order to effectively respond to such challenges, the Caribbean Community must continue strengthening its integration mechanisms, based on four fundamental pillars: economic integration, coordination around foreign policy, functional cooperation, and collaboration in the field of security.

How has Cuba contributed to defining priorities and solidifying cooperation projects?

The ACS-AEC has always been an extremely important forum for our foreign policy, as it was the first regional associative mechanism in which the Cuban Revolution fully participated. Thanks to the firm stance of our Caribbean friends at that time, Cuba was included from the very beginning in the negotiation processes as one of the founders of the organization.

Over the last 22 years Cuba, in accordance with it possibilities, has put its principle resource at the disposal of the ACS-AEC: technical and scientific knowledge in priority areas established by the organization. We have participated in the technical development and coordination of cooperation projects across various issues.

During the Second Ordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Council, held in Havana in December 1996, important agreements were adopted, establishing guidelines for cooperation with the ACS-AEC.

In this sense, the Sustainable Tourism Zone and Special Committee on Tourism, an ACS-AEC body responsible for overseeing and elaborating associated policies, were created during that meeting. Also established as a priority was the development and functioning of the Special Fund, a structure designed to identify, handle, and administer financial resources for cooperation programs.

And, as has already been noted, during the Association’s 7th Summit, held in Cuba, June 4, 2016, the Program for Combating Climate Change was presented and adopted. Thus a new sphere was included in the ACS-AEC’s cooperation efforts which, given the current situation, is vital to the development of member states, particularly Small Island States of the Caribbean.

What more will be done to promote cooperation following this Conference, and how important is the meeting?

This event is intended to review progress being made in the implementation of cooperation programs undertaken within the framework of the Association, and at the same time contribute to managing resources for projects currently underway and other proposed initiatives, in line with the thematic bases which have been identified as priorities.

Chosen on this occasion to be presented during the Conference were: the “Uniting the Caribbean by Air and Sea” project, focusing on connectivity and transport, and the “ACS-AEC Program to Combat the Impact of Climate Change in the Caribbean.” In the future, such programs could be undertaken in the areas of sustainable tourism, disaster response, among others.

Originally, the meeting was designed to encourage more meaningful participation by ACS-AEC member states and observer nations. However, this first conference will also include other countries, international organizations, as well as United Nations funds, programs and bodies, which have been specially invited, given their important links with the Caribbean region and experience in issues to be addressed during the Conference.

Organizers are hoping to establish this event as part of the ACS-AEC’s customary work program, with annual meetings, which will see governments, science professionals, and financial institutions forge necessary alliances with the potential to contribute to the sustainable development of the region, by improving the scientific, technological, cultural, and economic capacities of the Caribbean. (Cubaminrex)