CARICOM Chair calls for reset in US relations with Cuba

The Chair of CARICOM, Dr Keith Rowley, the Prime Minister of Trinidad, has called for the US to return to a policy of engagement in its relations with Cuba.

Speaking on 26 February in an online event organised by the Washington think tank, the Atlantic Council, he called for a reset in relations between the United States and the Caribbean and urged the Biden Administration to change the nature of its dialogue with Cuba and Venezuela, stressing that both are Caribbean nations.

On Cuba, he said that CARICOM had been “very disappointed” by the US’s recent reversal of the “welcome halting steps towards normalisation of the relationship; and most recently the announcement of the unconvincing designation of Cuba as a Terrorist – sponsoring state”. “We could all benefit from a significant thaw here”, Rowley observed.

Later, during an online question and answer session, speaking as Chair of the 15-nation regional grouping, he said that the entire Caribbean would benefit from a significant thawing of the relationship between Cuba and the US.

On Venezuela, he called for “a dispassionate early review of the US scorched earth policy”, noting that as the UN had confirmed that “ineffective harsh policies of unilateral sanctions are contributing immensely to widespread additional indiscriminate human suffering” and that the country needed help, “a compassionate ingredient which is not beyond US leadership”. Rowley said that the region now looked forward to the US playing a leadership role with CARICOM, Mexico, and Norway to assist Venezuelans to solve “their seemingly intractable political problems”.

Subsequently, the Cuban Embassy in Port of Spain welcomed the Prime Minister’s remarks and told the Trinidad Guardian that the position he had taken was consistent with CARICOM’s continuing opposition to “the unjust” economic, commercial and financial embargo. Cuba, a spokesperson said, reiterated “its full willingness to maintain relations with the United States based on respect for differences and noninterference in its internal affairs. They also noted that “the creation of an environment conducive to dialogue and multilateral cooperation in the hemisphere will allow more effective action to confront the COVID19 pandemic and its devastating impact on the economic and social life of our populations.”

Also responding, the US Embassy told the Trinidad Guardian that Washington wanted what is best for both Cuba and Venezuela but stressed the need for democratic reform if the relationship is to be improved. It noted that The Biden-Harris administration is reviewing US-Cuba policy but emphasised that the main principle at the core of US relations “will be support for democracy and human rights through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future”.

Some days later, on 25 February speaking at an online press conference at the conclusion of a CARICOM heads of government virtual summit, Trinidad’s Prime Minister said in answer to a question about the problems the grouping was having in obtaining vaccines, confirmed that some member states were discussing vaccine supply with Cuba. He said that when a Cuban vaccine was approved by the World Health Organisation he felt certain CARICOM states would access it, given the friendly relations the region enjoys.