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The Cuban connection

Cuban Ambassador to Barbados, Lissette Perez.

by Shamkoe Pilé

Barbados’ foreign policy has not changed since this island established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972. In fact, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Charles Burnett, stressed: “Barbados, and Barbados alone, would decide where its interests lay.”

The permanent secretary made this declaration during a panel discussion on Monday on the topic: The Meaning and Implications of the Cuba-CARICOM Diplomatic Relations in the Current Global Politico-economic Environment.

The event, which was held to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Cuba and CARICOM, took place at the 3Ws Pavilion, Cave Hill Campus, and was organised by the University of the West Indies in collaboration with the Cuban Embassy of Barbados.

Burnett said that the often bandied about phrase “Friends of all, satellites of none”, which was said by Barbados’ first Prime Minister Errol Barrow, was just one line in a very important statement.

He read an excerpt of Barrow’s statement which said: “We have devised the kind of foreign policy which is consistent with our national situation and is also based on the current realities of international politics. We have no quarrels to pursue, and we particularly, insist that we do not regard any member state as our natural opponent. We shall not involve ourselves in sterile ideological wrangling, because, we are exponents, not of the diplomacy of power, but of the diplomacy of peace and prosperity.”

Burnett stressed: “What [Prime Minister] Barrow was saying in short, was that, as a small nation state, Barbados was not ready to be used as a pawn or proxy by any major power in the Cold War… Barbados’ foreign policy has not changed from that.”

He reasoned that this was one of the underlying principles which guided Barbados in 1972 to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, along with Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Moreover, he noted that for persons to understand the current meaning and implications of Cuba-CARICOM diplomatic relations, there was a need to understand the socio-political environment of the era when relations were formally established.

“Jamaica, 10 years of independence; Trinidad & Tobago, 10 years of independence; Barbados and Guyana, six years of independence. It was the height of the cold war, capitalism verses communism in full flight. We just had the debacle of the Bay of Pigs. We had a development of a socialist agenda, a situation of the non-aligned movement and the new international economic order. This was the basic context of 1972,” the permanent secretary pointed out.

“We had Jamaica’s then Prime Minister, Michael Manley, and Guyana’s Prime Minister, Linden Forbes Burnham, who were both leftist. Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago was a nationalist, and Errol Barrow of Barbados, a pragmatist,” Burnett said, adding that the foreign policy of Barbados has always been driven by pragmatism.

“I deliberately made the comment about Errol Barrow being a pragmatist, because the relationship with Cuba from the beginning was seen as one which was commercial and economic rather than ideological. So, why was a pragmatist willing to go down at this stage?” he queried.

The Foreign Affairs official told the audience that there were large numbers of Barbadians and Caribbean nationals living in Cuba at that time mainly because of migration and he reported that the Barbadian government frequently interacted with the British Embassy in Cuba to liaise with Barbadians on the Spanish speaking island.

“So, for Barbados, [establishing relations with Cuba] was also a matter of engaging with its people, along with engaging Cuba… since most of these cases are not one-dimensional,” he explained.

Burnett noted that the present situation of CARICOM-Cuba relations was characterised by the US embargo still being in effect. Other attributes mentioned included the end of capitalism versus communism and an economic downturn “where the European Union has major problems and the US is in an ‘anemic’ recovery”.

Adding that the world’s new growth centres were China, India, Brazil and South America, he said that Latin America and the Caribbean increased South-South relations, and formed the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

“So, what does this contemporary situation mean for CARICOM and Cuba?” he asked.

is answer: “As spelt out at the 4th CARICOM-Cuba summit, we have practical joint collaborations on sustainable development, regional integration, illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons, and the question of narco-trafficking, which are some substantive issues concerning the relationship.”

He also noted that along with these issues, the Cuban government had outlined nine specific areas of collaboration for CARICOM and Cuba during the 4th summit.

These are: a training centre for the treatment of physical disabilities; a Caribbean Regional School of Arts; assistance to Information and Translation Institute, which is located in Suriname; assistance to the recovery of the banana crop; assistance in the restoration of fishing; assistance in water purification and construction of dams and micro dams; restoration services for the Caribbean sugar industry; construction and repairs of airports, bridges and docks, and regional cooperation to cope with natural disasters.

“This is where we are at in the relationship, in terms of CARICOM and Cuba operationalising their relationship,” Burnett concluded.

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