CUBA AND CARICOM-OECS FRIENDSHIP:OUR CARIBBEAN CIVILIZATION IN ACTION
[A response to address by President Raul Castro of Cuba made on the occasion of the third sitting of the OECS Assembly in Antigua and Barbuda on December 09, 2017]
BY DR THE HON RALPH E GONSALVES, PRIME MINISTER OF ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
Madam Speaker, we who are gathered at this Third Sitting of the OECS Assembly are deeply honored by the presence of His Excellency Raul Castro, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba. His wise words, his expressions of solidarity with our Caribbean civilization, including the component thereof represented by the member-countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and his enduring commitments on behalf of revolutionary Cuba are a profound inspiration to us. More tellingly, though, His Excellency, our dear friend Raul, has not only inspired, in the sense of putting memorable and uplifting ideas and thoughts into us, he has also drawn out of us that which is good and noble in us, at times drawing out of us goodness and nobility that we did not know as yet that we possessed. Indeed, since His Excellencyâs election to the office of the Presidency of Cuba nearly ten years ago, the Revolutionary Commander, Army General Raul Castro, has not only been a continuator of the undefeated and incomparable, Fidel, he has also enlarged our sense of the immense possibilities before us, even as we take account of our extant, and prospective, challenges and limitations.
In the Hebrew Bible, in the Chronicles, it is said of Issachar, perhaps the most modest of the leaders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, that his most valued quality was that he knew the times and acted accordingly; so, too, Raul. Karl Marx, the revolutionary guide of Fidel and Raul, aptly wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as the please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.â
So, great men make history but only to the extent that the circumstances of history permit them so to make. Though Raul is too modest to accept it, he is by his thoughts and deeds, one such man, whom we treasure and respect as an outstanding exemplar of rare quality leadership. We are honoured and pleased to have him among us today; and Mr. President, we thank God for your life and living.
We do not chose the time, place or circumstances of our birth; and we in the Caribbean have not determined by ourselves the geographic location of the lands of our birth. We did not come into this world without a past, without a history; and the possibilities of our history and our present, jostle with the tradition of all the dead generations which oft-times weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. So, the present contains the past which we seek to alter for the better. Thus, of all times only the future is ours to desecrate. Revolutionary Cuba, Fidel and Raul, have taught us to avoid the desecration of the future, a future which belongs to us if we accept that a better way is always possible; but we must devise it.
Cuba is, and has always been, part of our Caribbean civilization. To begin with, we all share the geographic, physical and environmental make-up of the archipelago and seaboard Caribbean. We have also had a shared history of European conquest, settlement, colonialism, and empire. We possess a population mix derived from indigenous peoples (Amerindians, Callinagoes, Garifuna), Anglo-Saxons, Portuguese, Spanish, Africans, Asians, Jews and Arabs. We have embraced a core of shared political values both adopted and adapted mainly from Western Europe and forged through our own history, our peoples, and the workings of the political processes in the Caribbean. We have fashioned a distinct cultural matrix derived substantially from the cultural milieu of the pre-Columbian Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and Asia but with homegrown evolutions and developments. We speak and write European languages (English, Spanish, French, Dutch) with distinctive Caribbean nuances, flair, and usages so as to make them our own. We have developed a productive and technological apparatus, though still evolving with its unevenness and problematics, but which sustains our Caribbeanâs social, economic, and political viability; and, critically, we are imbued inexhaustibly with the certainty of permanence in our Caribbean landscape and seascape, which sense of permanence goes beyond energy, will, and creative power; in this sense of permanence we own our landscape and seascape; we are not tenants in somebody elseâs geographic space; we are not in anybodyâs backyard; this Caribbean belongs to us. And we must own it for ourselves, our children and those yet unborn, while at the same time welcoming those who want to share it with us reasonably, proportionately, but always in our own interests.
These are the bedrocks which define Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean, including CARICOM and the OECS, as one enduring Caribbean civilisation. Our quest, thus, is to further ennoble and develop this unique civilization. Revolutionary Cuba, CARICOM, the OECS and the individual member-nations of our region have been, and are, joined in this quest which is a great cause; and great causes have never been won by doubtful men and women.
As our Caribbean civilisation assumed the political clothing of nationhood, we have guarded quite jealously our sovereignty and independence. We brook no unwarranted interference in our internal affairs; we commit to representative democracy and our peopleâs enjoyment of their freedoms; we strive for justice; and our region is a Zone of Peace. Accordingly, we reject the criminal economic blockade of Cuba by the US government; and we call on the Americans to leave the Guantanamo Base for the Cubans. These are relics of Cold War rivalries which are now an anachronism.
Madame Speaker, prior to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959, thousands of nationals from across the Caribbean migrated to Cuba to work. My own paternal grandfather migrated to Cuba from St. Vincent for a two-year period to work as a cane-cutter in Oriente Province during the late 1920s. Santiago de Cuba was heavily populated by Caribbean nationals especially from Jamaica and Cuba. In growing up, Fidel and Raul knew many of them. The offspring of these Caribbean migrants are to be found all over Cuba today, particularly in and around Santiago and Havana. Many from these families, recently, have been returning to visit or live in the countries of their fore-parents. Itâs a beautiful thing that is happening!
These people-to-people links prior to 1959 were subsequently ruptured by the intense Cold War politics particularly in the period 1962 to 1972. In December 1972, four member-states of CARICOM (the only four which were independent at that time ___ Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago) established diplomatic relations with Cuba in the face of strong and unrelenting opposition from the United States of America. Today we recall the courageous, independent, and sovereign act of these four CARICOM countries led respectively by political titans: Errol Barrow, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley, and Eric Williams.
In time, as other English-speaking territories gained independence between 1973 and 1981, they too established diplomatic relations with Cuba. In this group we find the member-countries of the OECS (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines); the others from the Anglo-Caribbean are Bahamas and Belize. The non-English-speaking CARICOM member-states, Haiti and Suriname, also established diplomatic ties with Cuba. In 2002, on the occasion of the inaugural Cuba-CARICOM Summit, Fidel was to remark that with the establishment of diplomatic relations by the original CARICOM “fourâ,
“—-they were charting the course for what would latter become the foreign policy of the Caribbean community, characterized by three main features: independence, courage and concerted action.â [My emphasis]
Between 1972 and now, the road has not been easy for Cuba-CARICOM, Cuba-OECS relations, although we have prevailed to the benefit of Cuba, CARICOM, and the OECS. The justness of our cause has triumphed over those who wish to remake us and our countries in their image, likeness, and interests.
At least three dramatic events brought Cuba and its relations with CARICOM into sharp focus in the international community. These were, first, the courageous decision of the Guyana government led by Forbes Burnham to permit Cuban aircraft to refuel in Guyana on their way to assist the people of Angola in their struggle for independence and freedom; secondly, the criminal act of anti-Castro terrorists in collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA to blow up a civilian Cubana aircraft bound for Cuba shortly after its take-off from the airport in Barbados; 77 persons were killed; they were citizens of Cuba, Guyana, and North Korea; and, thirdly, the Grenada Revolution (March 1979 to 1983) and its collapse. In each case, our regionâs enemies in the citadel of imperialism blamed Cuba, when it was indeed entirely blameless. Amazingly, they traduced Cuba for helping Angolans and the people of Southern Africa to gain their freedom while the imperialists themselves were supporting apartheid and “white peopleâ rule in Southern Africa. The terrorists and their allies actually damned Cuba for the terrorism which the terrorists themselves perpetrated off Barbados. The imperialists foolishly held that Cuba engineered the Grenada Revolution and then wrongly ascribed the Revolutionâs demise to Cuba. How is it conceivable for anyone to so blame Cuba for the “infantile disorderâ which precipitated the Revolutionâs collapse?
And then as late as 1993, the Bill Clinton administration in the USA and anti-Cuban politicians in the US Congress sought to block a Cuba-CARICOM technical cooperation which established the Joint Commission agreement led by the anti-communist crusader against Cuba, Representative Robert Toricelli (Democrat, New Jersey, and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Hemispheric Affairs), several members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to CARICOMâs leaders threatening to deny their countries any future trade concessions, if they did not rescind their decision to delete the human rightsâ provisions from their agreement with Cuba.
CARICOM stood firm in the face of this thinly-veiled economic blackmail. In a cogent, mature response to the authors of the Toricelli letter, CARICOMâs distinguished Secretary General at the time, Dr. Edwin Carrington, wrote in his missive on August 19, 1993, in part, as follows:
“The basic relationship which the Caribbean Community and its Member States maintain with Cuba, and which it is not proposed to change, can be viewed in the same light as those which presently exist between Cuba and other hemispheric countries such as Canada and Mexico. CARICOM Heads of Government have noted that Canada is in a Free Trade Area with the United States. Also that Canada, Mexico and the United States propose to launch the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) in January 1994. They therefore find it difficult to understand the basis for the concerns that the economic benefits from free trade between the United States and CARICOM will flow through to Cuba from a Technical Cooperation Agreement when that does not occur in other cases.â
CARICOM stood firm in facing down the unacceptable threats from the USA. This is a lesson for those who instantly go weak in the knees when any metaphoric dog of imperialism barks.
I have lived to see that the rightness of the stance of CARICOM and the OECS in relation to Cuba pave the way for the American President Barack Obama on December 17, 2014, to agree with President Raul Castro of Cuba to announce the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the USA. Sadly, the current US Administration is seeking to undo even “the baby stepsâ taken by Obama in this regard. As friends of both the Cubans and the Americans, we in the OECS urge President Trump not to be tempted to pursue hostilities against Cuba.
One thing is clear, we in CARICOM and the OECS will not permit presidential politics in South Florida and the geo-political interests of the wholly irrational wing of modern imperialism to stop us or derail us from consolidating and strengthening our relations with Cuba.
Over the recent years, particularly since the dying years of the twentieth century, Cuba and CARICOM (inclusive of the OECS) have strengthened its people-to-people, trade, diplomatic, and multiple functional links and cooperation. Cuba has been especially selfless in these respects. The record is well-known, indeed legendary, of Cubaâs extraordinary selflessness and solidarity with our Caribbean. I do not need to repeat the details here today.
On behalf of the OECS I say thanks to Revolutionary Cuba, its government and people for all that they have done with us, and for us. We in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are especially grateful. Our gratitude is, in part, signified by the placement, in a prominent place at the historic Argyle International Airport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, of a large photograph of Fidel. Without Cuba, without Fidel, without Raul the Argyle International Airport would not have been built. We again say thanks for this and more.
Raul, I continue to pray for your long life and happiness. All the best to you and the Cuban people. We thank you.