The Caribbean and Cuba

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By Michael W Edghill
CJ Contributor

At the end of 2014, Havana welcomed the regional Heads of State a December when it hosted the 5th Caricom-Cuba Summit.

From first appearances, this summit did not disappoint as it offered an opportunity to glad hand and position photo-ops for all of the leaders of the region while not rustling any feathers or proclaiming much more than that these Caricom – Cuba Summits serve as a convention for the mutual admiration society of the Caribbean.

There was the obligatory yet necessary call for an end to the United States embargo of Cuba, a call to strengthen regional ties and promote South-South cooperation, a recognition of the importance of multi-national regional programs such as CELAC, ALBA, and PetroCaribe, and appreciation for Cuba’s contributions to the region in the fields of education and health care. None of these points would be considered bold or groundbreaking offerings from the summit of the regional Heads of Government.

Most crucially, CARICOM’s everlasting call for the US to end the embargo proved prophetic, when, just a few weeks later, the US and Cuba had their famous rapprochement.

If one is looking for a silver lining though in regards to Cuba and its future; something to suggest that future changes to the Cuban governmental system are possible; then a few points to come out of the Summit are noteworthy.

There was a point made about progress in the negotiations of the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement between Cuban and Caricom.

An additional point was also made regarding how the modernizing of the Cuban economy affords the opportunity to strengthen economic ties between Cuba and Caricom.

A third point of note called for cooperation in the area of information and communication technologies.

While none of these points would be considered ‘revolutionary’ for Cuba because of the way each one is presented rather modestly (utilizing terms such as progress, opportunity, cooperation), it is significant that these points made their way into the conversation.

The Cuban government is not one to let rhetorical details slip through without noticing.

Cuba has always been very particular about what it allows to be on the agenda when it is involved and has had a keen eye towards how ideas are presented in order for the government to keep itself in total control of the situation.

So for discussions of the progress being made regarding free trade, a modernizing economy, and information/communication technologies to be put forth suggests that these are things that the Cuban government is likely already on their way to making happen.

For as much as Cuba was the revolutionary leader for social change in the Caribbean and Latin America in the 20th Century, perhaps Caricom will become the unknowingly, reluctant vanguard of a more open Cuba in the 21st Century.

While the US will still have to work to make any tangible changes to the embargo following the rapprochement, Caricom, is already an honest partner.

While Caricom states decried they embargo, and they did not rhetorically abhor anything that resembles socialism, and as a body (and as individual states) they are willing to work with and cooperate with the Cuban government rather than make demands solely on their terms.

While it is important to speak out against the human rights violations and the suppression of a free people that the Cuban government is guilty of (and Caribbean leaders must do this), it is equally important to work with the Cuban government to try and create a more open society in the places that they appear willing to open.

Even if it is only a slightly more open economy at this point, that is progress that only a few years ago might have seemed unachievable.

And, yes, it is reasonable to believe that a more liberated economy will lead, over time, to a more liberated society. Caricom can help light this path.

By continuing to gently push for an expansion of trade and economic cooperation, a continuing modernization of the economy that allows for a reasonable amount of foreign investment and personal ownership, and a development of ICTs, Caricom serves itself and, perhaps unknowingly, serves to help the people of Cuba now and in the future.

Michael W Edghill, a Caribbean Journal contributor, teaches courses in US Government & in Latin America & the Caribbean in Fort Worth, Texas. He has been published by the Yale Journal of International Affairs, Diplomatic Courier, the Trinidad Guardian, and others.