Statement for the Honourable Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, CARICOM-Cuba Summit
Friday 8th December 2017
Your Excellency Raul Castro Ruz, President of the Republic of Cuba,
Your Excellencies, Heads of Government of CARICOM,
Your Excellency Irwin LaRocque, Secretary General of CARICOM
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to Antigua and Barbuda on the occasion of this CARICOM-Cuba Summit, and on this very important day marking the Forty-Fifth Anniversary of the establishment of CARICOM-Cuba diplomatic relations.
The Government and people of Antigua and Barbuda are privileged to host this very significant event.
Cooperation between our Caribbean countries plays a vital role in the advancement of sustainable development.
Our purpose today is to chart a course by which CARICOM countries and Cuba can navigate together, to a prosperous future for our peoples.
Additionally, we are also celebrating the unique friendship that exists between the countries of CARICOM and the Republic of Cuba.
It is a friendship that CARICOM values greatly, and we are delighted that it has endured and flourished.
CARICOM countries and Cuba have much in common.
Not only are we located in our one Caribbean space, we share a proud history of resistance to oppression, and a resolve to maintain our independence.
As small Caribbean countries, we share common vulnerabilities, as well as a determination not to be overwhelmed by them, but, by acting together, to overcome them.
On this very same day in 1972, the governments of the newly independent nations of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago took the bold decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba, even as most countries in the world adhered to a US-led embargo against it.
Those four pioneering Caribbean governments, were certain that their action was just and principled, and that justice and principle were greater than unfairness and fear of reprisals.
From the outset, the relationship between CARICOM countries and Cuba has been characterized by mutual trust and understanding.
That underlying trust laid the foundation for the cherished relations, which exist between our countries today.
On this same day in 2002, CARICOM Heads of Government and the Government of Cuba met in Havana for the first-ever CARICOM-Cuba Summit, and agreed to the annual observance of CARICOM-Cuba Day.
I am pleased that the proposal to observe CARICOM-Cuba day was made by Antigua and Barbuda, through its then Prime Minister, Sir Lester Bird.
In making the proposal, Sir Lester invoked the words of the Poet Pablo Neruda to encourage all his colleagues.
The words of Pablo Neruda which he quoted were these:
And so history teaches with her light
That man can change that which exists
And if he takes purity into battle
In his honour, blooms a noble spring.
Sir Lester’s proposal proved to be a noble spring.
It was a proposal that won the immediate support of all.
That support has never wavered, as has been demonstrated by the devotion with which all Heads of Government attend year after year.
And for good reason.
The Cuba–CARICOM relationship is one of the region’s greatest assets.
It has been an anchor in a turbulent global world, bringing mutual benefit across a broad spectrum of areas.
While Cuba has earnestly sought to address its own developmental challenges, it has devoted resources beyond its borders to tackle human development gaps in the wider region.
Cuba has helped to make our individual societies more resilient through its provision of access to world-class health services, training and quality education, as well as assistance for disaster management, agriculture and sports.
For our part, we the CARICOM countries have not hesitated to stand-up and be counted in the effort to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which the United States government has imposed on Cuba for over five decades.
Last year, Cuba and the Caribbean lost a great leader, Fidel Castro Ruz.
Today, as we deliberate on the close friendships between our peoples, we also reflect on President Fidel Castro’s enduring legacy of equality and social justice, which will endure as we strive to advance the socioeconomic development of our Caribbean countries.
While much has been achieved over years in our region, a multitude of challenges still remain.
We find ourselves in an age of unprecedented opportunity, yet there is also much uncertainty.
The perils of terrorism, the turn away from internationalism in favour of protectionist and mercantilist policies, the building of walls when bridges are needed, and the tendency to confrontation instead of discussion – all these now spread fear and insecurity.
The Caribbean faces pressing economic and social problems such as poverty, high levels of debt, diseconomies of scale, and poor terms of trade.
In addition, we are confronted by significant threats to our livelihood as a result of our acute vulnerability to natural disasters.
This year, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, stormed through the region, devastating many islands, and plunging them into chaos.
The worst affected countries are still to recover, and rebuilding is a daunting prospect.
If we have learnt no other lesson from the ravages of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, we have learned that, in the hour of need Caribbean countries stand together, and do not shirk from being their brother’s keeper.
It is at times of such an adversity that the Caribbean shows its oneness, its unity and its solidarity.
We must continue to strengthen cooperation amongst our Caribbean nations, especially in the area of disaster preparedness and management.
Climate Change has become an additional vulnerability of our countries.
While our emission of global greenhouse gases is negligible, we are usually the first to suffer and often the hardest hit from its impact.
Climate Change constitutes a systemic threat to our security, with far reaching implications for our respective ecosystems, societies and economies.
Yet, despite all of these problems, the Caribbean is a region of opportunity.
It is a stable region, with significant maritime resources, unlocked trade, business, and human capital potential.
When we think of the future of the Caribbean, we must keep our mind open to what is possible if we pool our resources and integrate our economies.
With gold, diamonds, bauxite, nickel, copper, gas, oil, agriculture, forestry, tourism and a wealth of talented and creative people, our region should be amongst the richest in the world.
To achieve this, we as leaders must explore how we release the clutch that has put the development of a single economy on pause.
We must accelerate again the economic relationship of our countries, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic, so that the unity, the oneness and the solidarity we show in the wake of natural disasters, can be the bedrock of our economic growth and social development.
We have to imagine what the Caribbean region will be like ten years from now, twenty years from now, and even a hundred years from now, and continue to put in place those policies and structures, which will help us to realize our abiding vision for a more sustainable region in which our people can thrive and prosper.
None of it is beyond us; all of it is within our grasp.
We have only to stand together, act together, advance together.
And so I end this welcome, particularly to President Raul Castro with more words that came from the voice of Pablo Neruda but flows from the hearts of the Caribbean people:
And if Cuba were to fall we would all fall,
and we would come to lift her,
and if she blooms with flowers
she will flourish with our own nectar.
And if they dare touch Cuba’s
forehead, by your hands liberated,
they will find people’s fists,
we will take out our buried weapons:
blood and pride will come to rescue,
to defend our beloved Cuba.
I wish us all a most successful Summit.