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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America the long view

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, bottom row, from left, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and Cuba's President Raul Castro, wave as they pose for a group photo in Santiago, Chile, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. The leaders are gathered in Santiago for the CELAC-EU summit, a 60-nation two day economic meeting.

Cuba's President Raúl Castro is in Chile today to chair a summit meeting between the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union. Following this meeting, the presidency of CELAC passes to Cuba.

CELAC is a new counter-hegemonic and integrationist project in which all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have joined together with the expressed exclusion of the United States, Canada and their colonial dependencies and territories.
The decision to pass the presidency to Cuba confirms the CELAC member countries’ confidence in Cuba and its importance. It is also the most palpable evidence of the failure of the US policy of isolation maintained against Cuba since the revolution in 1959.

Washington historically attempted to block any kind of Cuban relationship with the rest of the nations on the continent. Early on, in the 1960s, it used its power and influence to force all the countries of the region (with the exception of Mexico and Canada) to cut off diplomatic relations with Havana

However, this policy of isolation began to collapse in 1972, when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago all established diplomatic relations with Cuba.

"If we go back to the 1960’s, Cuba only had diplomatic relations with Mexico (given U.S. pressure) and very few commercial links in the region," notes Cuba's Deputy Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Orlando Hernández Guillén, whose overview of the current situation of commercial ties between Cuba and Latin American and Caribbean nations can be read in full HERE

"After the decisive step in relation to Cuba taken by the four English-speaking Caribbean countries, little by little Latin American nations approached us, some of them utilizing commercial links and others the diplomatic context. And today, the country has become an active member of the Latin American community."

What are Cuba's foriegn policy intentions in the region?

Basically, ties with Latin America are included in the Cuban Constitution, which establishes that the government bases its international relations on the principles of equality of rights, self-determination, territorial integrity, the independence of states, beneficial international cooperation and mutual and equitable interest; as well as the peaceful resolution of controversies on equal footing, and other principles proclaimed in the United Nations Charter and other international treaties to which Cuba is a party.

At the same time, it reaffirms Cuba’s willingness to integrate and cooperate with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which share a common identity and the historic need to advance together toward economic and political integration in order to achieve genuine independence.

This position is endorsed in the Lineamientos or guidelines approved last year at the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, which also specify basic aspects of Cuba's close ties with Latin America, through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) and the Association of Caribbean States, among other sub-regional institutions to which Cuba belongs. These have also provided a space for the development of relations with other countries, with the exception of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its sub-system of institutions.

In terms of trade Cuba’s foreign trade with the region represents more than 40% of its commercial interchange at the global level, placing the country in one of the top spots in the region, with regards to the volume of intraregional trade.

In this respect, the relations Cuba has with Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela are very important. In the case of Venezuela, it is the No.1 trading partner and a vital supplier of energy resources.

Even though the Cuban government is developing a policy to promote the replacement of food imports, the country still spends $1,700-1,800 million per year on food alone, and Latin America is an important supplier of foodstuffs, especially countries like Brazil and Argentina.

Cuban exports to Latin America range from services (especially in health) and biotechnology products to construction materials, while it imports from Latin America raw materials, intermediate products, machinery and equipment, above all from Brazil.

Cuba has important credit lines with Brazil and Venezuela and these also promote investment and development . In particular, the Port of Mariel is being reconstructed and mobernised with Brazilian cooperation and funding and the participation of Brazilian companies. This is a huge project with enormous potential to redevelop the port of Havana into a leisure and tourist hub.

Cuba's relations with Latin America have reached this new high point because of Cuba’s gradual progress in terms of developing  preferential trade links with the ALADI member countries and later with Central American countries like Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and nations comprising the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).With the accession of Hugo Chávez to power in Venezuela in 1998,  agreements have advanced with Venezuela and now with Bolivia and Ecuador through the ALBA so much so that Cuba currently has relations which we are equivalent to free trade, as there are no tariffs related to the circulation of merchandise.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines are the ALBA members, and this body represents a new kind of integration organization which has altered the political and economic dynamics of the region. 

Cuba is therefore fully inserted in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and is incorporated in all the area’s coordination and integration structures, apart from the OAS. But even at the OAS, the Latin American members have made it clear that Cuba must be admitted to this body in future.
As far as the future is concerned therefore, the Latin American countries have demonstrated that they do not share the apprent US desire to overthrow the current Cuban government. It is largely through the relations that Cuba now has with countries in the region that it has been able weather the international financial crisis relatively well. The Cuban economy grew 3.1% in 2012. This was achieved despite the Obama administration imposing the most fines of any presidency on foreign banking institutions for dealing with Cuba. 

It is a stark reality for the Obama administration that there is little that it can do to halt either the integrationist current in Latin America - or Cuba's central role within it. This weekend's summit in Chile is the clearest demonstration of that yet.

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