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CARICOM-Cuba relations: One element of Barbados foreign policy
Published on December 13, 2012 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Shamkoe Pilé

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) – Barbados’s foreign policy has not changed since the 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 Cuba and CARICOM, 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’s 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 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 that 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, he said that there was a need to understand the socio-political environment of the era when relations were formally established.

"Jamaica, ten years of independence; Trinidad and Tobago, ten 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 asked.

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 (CELAC).

"So, what does this contemporary situation mean for CARICOM and Cuba?" he asked. His 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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Ian Francis, Toronto,Ontario:

Based on the PS comment, he should advise his PM to stay clear from future foreign policy contradictions involving Caricom.

Barbados-Cuba relations is not challenged and will never be challenged. I have always commended Barrow for Barbados decision to embrace Cuba. I am clearly aware of what Barbados went through and I continue to heap great praise on Barbados.

However, in recent weeks, Barbados has vacillated on many foreign policy decisions.The recent vote at the United Nations on Palestine should have collectively been supported by all Caricom Nations. By abstaining from such a vote, is Barbados saying that their abstention was based on its individual foreign policy stance. If this is the case, both the PS and Stuart should tell Georgetown that they do not wish to participate in any coordinated foreign policy mechanism.

The above being the case, Stuart should have declined the invitation in St.Lucia where he lamented about the need for Caricom foreign policy coordination.

Burnett's address is not anything new but is designed and reported to shelter a limping STUART.

Good luck guys. Keep being the Neo-Colonial gate keepers in our region. LOL


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