CubaNews / January 2003
By Larry Luxner
President Castro is spearheading an aggressive campaign to win Cuba full membership in the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom), while leading an equally vocal attack against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
At present, Cuba has only observer status in Caricom, which is headquartered in Georgetown, Guyana, and is composed mainly of small English-speaking island nations.
But at a mid-December Caricom summit in Havana — the first of its kind ever — delegates agreed put a trade accord with Cuba into effect by Jan. 1, 2003. So far, only four members have ratified the pact, which seeks to expand Cari-com’s current $120 million in trade with Cuba.
Thirteen of Caricom’s 15 leaders attended the Havana summit, which also marked the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the Caribbean. In 1972, four countries — Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago — established official ties with the Castro government over strong U.S. objections.
“This courageous decision adopted by small, newly independent countries in a hostile environment and under great pressures, was a fundamental step in breaking the diplomatic and commercial blockade of Cuba in the region,” Castro told the visiting heads of state.
In a statement, the leaders demanded the “immediate lifting” of the U.S. trade embargo and backed Cuban efforts to join the Cotonou Agreement, a cooperation accord between the European Union and former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
In return, Castro offered to double to 2,000 the number of Cuban doctors and health workers now stationed in Caribbean island nations, and promised to set up a medical training center to help battle AIDS in the Caribbean. Denzil Douglas, prime minister of St. Kitts-Nevis, said Cuban aid was already making “a significant difference” in the regional fight against AIDS.
Castro’s enthusiasm for joining Caricom is matched only by his hostility to the FTAA, or ALCA, as Washington’s proposed trade pact is known in Spanish. The main reason: Cuba will be the only country excluded from the FTAA upon its planned implementation in 2005.
During a Nov. 28 speech in Havana, the Cuban leader urged 1,200 left-wing activists from 45 countries to “go back to their countries and sink the ALCA.”
According to the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro recalled Winston Churchill’s historic order to British forces during World War II to sink the Bismarck battleship — the symbol of Nazi naval power.
“When I say sink the ALCA to you,” he told his audience, “do not do so as a question of national pride, but out of vital necessity, because it is something that threatens not only the dignity but the life of all Latin Americans."
Cuba’s 76-year-old leader added that “perhaps one of the most dramatic aspects [of FTAA] is that it is designed to take over all resources, devour our countries’ economies and convert peoples en masse into a cheap labor force.”