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 Caribbean diplomacy and victory for Cuba

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MessageSujet: Caribbean diplomacy and victory for Cuba   Dim 7 Juin 2009 - 12:27

Caribbean diplomacy and victory for Cuba
Published: Sunday | June 7, 2009



Robert Buddan - POLITICS OF OUR TIME
Cuba was suspended from the Organisation of American States (OAS) in 1962. Yet, in 1972 four CARICOM states - Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago - were bold enough to establish diplomatic relations with that country.

At that time, Cuba was isolated from the hemisphere.
The OAS had been unabashedly pro-American and the United States considered the region unapologetically as its backyard.

A few days ago, June 3, the OAS voted overwhelmingly to rescind Cuba's suspension leaving that country free to return to the 34-nation body after 47 years.

CARICOM states make up a sizeable portion of that membership.
Thirteen CARICOM states carry 38 per cent of its votes.
Those votes were valuable.

When Cuba was suspended none of the present CARICOM states were members of the OAS. The first CARICOM states joined the OAS in 1967. Fourteen Latin and North American States voted to suspend Cuba and six abstained. Of the 21 members then, only Cuba voted against its suspension. The admission of CARICOM states and Canada significantly changed the balance of power towards Cuba between 1967 and 1991.

Adamant, arrogant and out of touch

However, the United States remained adamant, arrogant and out of touch.
It was the largest financial contributor to the OAS. It was the military power of the hemisphere, the main market and source of investments.

This was all the more reason why the decision of four small newly independent and economically dependent Caribbean states to have established diplomatic relations with Cuba when they did was remarkable; and for even smaller Caribbean states to have done so after becoming independent themselves later.

When the story of Cuba's readmission to the OAS is told, this should be a central part of that story. At the moment, it is not.

Much of the press focus is on Honduras where the historic OAS meeting took place; Venezuela and Nicaragua, which have been pushing hardest for Cuba's readmission; Brazil with its own vision of a Latin American bloc; and the socialist and nationalist presidents that have recently emerged in Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica.

But even these countries benefited from the momentum established by CARICOM and more recently by Trinidad's diplomacy at the Summit of the Americas held in April this year.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning travelled to key countries in Latin America, including Cuba to seek a consensus among these same countries that make up the OAS on Cuba's admission to future summits.

He also sought to ensure that the Cuba issue did split the countries of the hemisphere and that as many presidents as possible would attend. Although Cuba had not been invited to the summit, Manning invited Raul Castro to visit Trinidad anytime.

The summit in Trinidad was a diplomatic success. It also galvanised opinions favouring Cuba's inclusion in hemispheric business. In fact, the US-Cuba dimension of hemispheric relations overshadowed all other issues as everyone listened to what Barack Obama's take would be.

At the time of the summit, Obama and Raul Castro traded warm words and this encouraged the secretary general of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, to say that he would ask the General Assembly of the OAS to annul the 1962 resolution excluding Cuba.

Ramdin role

The role of Guyana's Albert Ramdin, should also be recognised.
Ambassador Ramdin is assistant secretary general of the OAS. After the Summit of the Americas, he was quick to announce that debate on Cuba's readmission to the OAS had already begun and signalled that it was likely that Cuba would be readmitted.

He helped to create the atmosphere for the OAS to broker Cuba's return.
He began to bring focus on the areas of cooperation in which Cuba's help would benefit the region. These included education, culture and disaster risk reduction.

CARICOM representatives have not lost sight of the Caribbean's role in making this historic breakthrough possible. Grenada's representative at the OAS meeting recognised Trinidad's role in paving the way for the OAS's decision.

Neither was Cuba's value to the hemisphere lost on Caribbean representatives. They all supported Cuba's re-entry to regional affairs because of Cuba's help to all of them.
Jamaica, for example, will soon be hosting a very important meeting of agricultural ministers and would want to learn more from Cuba.

This is not the first time that CARICOM has stood its ground and changed the OAS's thinking on key issues in the hemisphere.

In 2004, when major players like the United States and Canada were behind the move to exile Haiti's elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, CARICOM particularly at Jamaica's insistence, suspended the unelected interim government of Haiti even when the OAS seemed soft on the violation of democracy in Haiti.

A unit for democracy

It was ironic that when Canada joined the OAS it promoted a unit for democracy to observe elections and otherwise support democratisation in the hemisphere.

Yet, it engaged in an act to violate democracy by conspiring to remove a government, which CARICOM said contravened its Charter of Civil Society. CARICOM was virtually alone in steadfastly pressing for new elections in Haiti, which would reflect the will of the people. CARICOM only readmitted Haiti after an elected government had been sworn in.

CARICOM has stood its ground against the two big powers of the hemisphere, the United States and Canada. In the process it stood up for two revolutionary states that have helped to define the Caribbean and the principles of freedom and non-intervention.
Finally, the Cold War is giving way at its last outpost.

CARICOM can look proudly at its achievements. It should ask how much more it could achieve if it fixed its collective mind on unity, coordination and maintaining a common front. It is ironic that growing despair over disunity in CARICOM is growing at precisely this time. Fissures have opened up over the economic partnership agreement (EPA) with Europe; internal migration and Barbados' stance; different approaches towards political unity; trade barriers and trade quarrels, and failure to reach a consensus on how best to respond to the present global economic crisis.

CARICOM Plus

CARICOM will now have to think about bringing Cuba into CARICOM or CARIFORUM (that is, CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic). In either case, we should be looking to a CARICOM Plus. We need not fear this. We can move in this direction in the same spirit of boldness as when we first established diplomatic relations with Cuba 37 years ago.

On the 30th anniversary of that act, the two sides released a communiqué, in part, "acknowledging that the establishment of diplomatic relations by Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, with the Republic of Cuba on December 8, 1972 attested to the political independence, unity of purpose, and courage of the leaders of those states, represented a historic breakthrough which encouraged the reinsertion of the Republic of Cuba into hemispheric diplomatic relations and constituted an affirmation that Cuba is an integral part of the Caribbean family".

The next step is a logical one. Thirty years down the road, we should be looking back at this period when a much stronger, united, and developed CARICOM Plus came into being, that is, if our leaders do the right thing.
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