Caribbean Community welcomes new Cuba-U.S. relations

Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie opens a meeting of 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders in Nassau, Bahamas on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Christie will serve as chairman until July.
Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie opens a meeting of 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders in Nassau, Bahamas on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Christie will serve as chairman until July. Courtesy of Caricom

Caribbean Community leaders opened a two-day summit in the Bahamas on Thursday, welcoming the United States’ opening with Cuba but reiterating their call for an end to “the senseless trade embargo” against their Spanish-speaking neighbor.

“At our summit meeting with Cuba last December, I called on the U.S. Congress to end its senseless trade embargo against Cuba. I do so again now,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in his outgoing speech as chairman of the 15-member regional bloc known as Caricom.

Browne, who became chairman just weeks after winning his twin-island’s elections last year, noted that the region has had diplomatic relations with Cuba dating back to 1972 when “Four independent member states of our community ended the U.S.-inspired, hemispheric diplomatic embargo of Cuba.”

“We in the Caribbean can rightly take credit for being on the right side of history in this matter,” he said.

Browne’s sentiments at the summit of Caribbean leaders came on the eve of the second round of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic talks in Washington. The one-day meeting, aimed at normalizing relations, will be held Friday at the State Department.

Bahamas Prime Minister Perrry Christie, the incoming Caricom chairman, echoed Browne’s sentiments while also hinting at some of the concerns reverberating throughout the English-speaking Caribbean about what the changes mean for their vulnerable tourism market.

“Sooner rather than later, Caricom should engage in feasibility surveys with a view toward developing a multidestination tourism initiative with Cuba,” Christie said.

Christie’s call was among several aimed at addressing the region’s economic vulnerability. A recent report by the Caribbean Development Bank said that while the region is continuing to bounce back from the recent global recession, challenges remain.

Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said moving the region out of the current period of low growth requires new critical thinking.

“The creativity for which we are renowned must now be allied to an entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and productivity,” he said.

But regional economies are facing new threats that must be addressed, Browne said. They include new policies on sugar and banking.

“We are deeply disturbed by the news that from the end of next year, European Union policy will deal a severe blow to Caribbean sugar-producing nations, such as Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Jamaica,” Browne said. “The EU will terminate a cap on European beet sugar production and so flood the EU market, displacing sugar exports from Caribbean countries that will be unable to compete with heavy subsidies given to EU beet sugar producers.”

The new policy change could force 6.4 million people in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into poverty in the next five years, Browne said, quoting a study by the British Department for International Development.

Browne said the region was also being “labeled as a high-risk area for financial services.”

As a result, European and U.S. banks were closing their relationships with indigenous Caribbean banks “because an arbitrary and unsubstantiated claim is being made that the Caribbean is a high-risk area for financial services. Now our banking sector is facing a new and potentially devastating threat.”

“Unless this situation is addressed with urgency, the indigenous banks in each of our countries will be forced to close their doors, not because of any inherent difficulties in the banks themselves, but because they are constrained from transacting business abroad,” he said.