Former President of Dominica Juan Bosch described the Caribbean as an “imperial frontier,” and point of conflict between the economic and political interests of global powers, a reality which hasn’t changed since the time of Christopher Columbus.
Behind the façade of beautiful beaches and multi-colored neighborhoods which cover the front page of magazines all over the world, the region has a long history of exploitation, underdevelopment, and power struggles.
It seems therefore that despite language and cultural differences, integration among the peoples of the Caribbean is the only possible way to wipe away the vast debts of its colonial past, which some countries, like the United States, are trying to reimpose today.
December 8, marks the 45th anniversary of a gesture which transformed Cuba’s relationship with other Caribbean nations. On that date in 1972, the heads of state of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyana, which had recently gained their independence, decided to establish diplomatic relations with the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro.
The decision set off alarms in Washington, which was using all the political means at its disposal to isolate Cuba, whose economy was growing rapidly despite U.S. attempts to sabotage it.
“Probably, the leaders of these countries, also considered the founding fathers of the independence of their nations and of Caribbean integration, - Errol Barrow from Barbados, Forbes Burnham from Guyana, Michael Manley from Jamaica, and Eric Williams from Trinidad and Tobago - realized that their decision to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba was paving the way for the future foreign policy of the Caribbean Community, which to this day stands on three major pillars: independence, courage, and concerted action,” stated Fidel on the 30th anniversary of the seminal event.
One would be hard pressed to find a single corner of the Caribbean where Cuba has not left its mark. Tens of thousands of collaborators from different sectors, including healthcare, education, engineering, and construction, have helped to transform the reality of some of the region’s most impoverished comminutes, the ones that don’t appear on tourist posters.
Likewise, according to official sources, over 5,000 youth from the Caribbean have been trained in Cuba over recent decades, and are now serving their communities in their native countries.
The 6th Caricom-Cuba Summit, taking place December 8 in Antigua and Barbuda, will therefore be a new opportunity to review the work of the mechanism since its founding 15 years ago, in Havana, 2002.
There currently exists broad cooperation across various strategic sectors such as health, sports, education, culture, and construction. But, as has been noted in previous encounters, there remains much more potential to be exploited.
According to information presented in March of this year by Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, trade between Caricom nations and Cuba exceeded 120 million USD in 2016, almost double that of the previous year. However, this figure still falls below its real potential. The event in Antigua and Barbuda will enable delegations from commercial and business sectors to sit down and evaluate new opportunities in this area.
Meanwhile, common challenges, such as combating climate change, will also feature among topics to be discussed at the regional encounter.
This year the powerful hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated several Caribbean nations, proving the vulnerability of small island nations of the region to increasingly severe natural disasters which affect the area.
The force of the winds, and the scale of the disaster, put Caribbean institutions and international solidarity to the test, however it must be noted that neighboring countries were the first to send aid to the most affected zones.
In Dominica, where almost 90% of homes were damaged, the most critical victims were transported by air to neighboring islands to receive urgent medical treatment.
Likewise, search and rescue teams from Cuba and Venezuela were among the first to arrive in the country to save those trapped by mudslides and floods.
Regional organizations such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) mobilized vital resources and the Regional Security System, in partnership with Caricom, helped to impose order at the most crucial moments.
Although Irma caused a fair amount of damage across a good part of the island, Cuba offered help to the most severely affected countries, including Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.
The island also sent a shipment of hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid, including food, construction materials, and brigades of linemen, as well as forestry and construction workers, to support recovery efforts on the ground.
Alongside the local people, Cuban healthcare professionals stationed in both countries weathered the impact of the hurricanes, but continued to offer their services throughout.
Meanwhile, a special brigade from the Henry Reeve Contingent was deployed in Dominica for a month, in case epidemics broke out.
Irma and Maria showed that increasingly severe weather events are just one of many other challenges facing the region, above all attempts by the U.S. to re-exert its dominance in the area.
Cuban national hero, José Martí, believed that if Cuba and Puerto Rico secured independence it would prevent the United States from extending its control over the rest of Latin America.
In this regard, the position taken by Caribbean nations this year in the Organization of American States (OAS) is proof of the region’s strategic role in blocking maneuvers by the U.S., such as in the case of Venezuela, whose government has come under attack from Washington for attempting to implement profound changes to benefit the population in a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world.
Furthermore, the Caribbean’s longstanding rejection of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. on Cuba, show that the fundamental principles of justice, even when defended by small and vulnerable island nations, prevail over pressure and coercionl by a global power.
“We face similar challenges that can only be met through close unity and efficient cooperation,” stated Army General Raúl Castro during the inauguration of the 5th Caricom-Cuba Summit, held in Havana.
Caribbean and Latin American integration, concluded the Cuban President, is “crucial to our survival.”