Geographically, Cuba is part of the Caribbean islands, but because of the nature of its political system, established in 1959 with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, its expulsion from the OAS and the embargo imposed by the U.S. government since the 1960s, the island has clearly become different from the rest of the Caribbean.

In the early years of the revolutionary government, the country’s foreign policy was aimed at ensuring survival and consolidation of the Revolution. One of the few regional elements in its hemispheric and global agenda was support for the independence movement in Puerto Rico.

With the gradual decolonization of the British territories in the Caribbean in the 1960s and the independence of Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, those four countries established diplomatic relations with Cuba in December of 1972, thus breaking its regional isolation and beginning a process of reassessment of the importance of the Caribbean in Cuban foreign policy. In the first stage, with the subsequent independence of other English-speaking and Danish states, relations with Cuba in the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean progressively expanded. Particularly in the cases of Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname and Grenada, it should be noted that the intensification of relations with Cuba occurred in the context of increasing ideological agreement and a perception by those countries that the Cuban political model was an important point of reference for developing similar experiences in the region. The emphasis on geographic, historical and, especially, ethnic similarities also contributed significantly to this intensification of relations, especially on the political level.

In the 1980s, however, Cuba’s relations with the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean suffered a gradual deterioration, particularly after the U.S. invasion of Grenada in October of 1983. The increased distance between Cuba and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member countries, especially on issues of security and regional stability in the context of the Cold War, lasted through the decade until the early 1990s.

With the end of the Cold War in 1992, a third stage began as Caribbean countries began renewing relations. The process of creating the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which culminated in 1995, made this renewal possible through increased contacts and bilateral visits and by Cuba’s active participation in the process. The establishment of the ACS, with the inclusion of Cuba and the exclusion of the United States, began a process of renewal of relationships with Latin American countries, culminated in the incorporation of Cuba into the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) and, more recently, into the Rio Group and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CLACS).

In 1993, the Cuba-CARICOM Joint Committee began to meet regularly, which led to increased cooperation among the countries. The development of these ties led to the support of the CARICOM member countries for Cuba’s participation in the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) Group, in CARIFORUM in the negotiations with the European Union, and its collaboration with the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM). These ties led to sustained opposition by the CARICOM countries to the financial and trade embargo of Cuba imposed by the United States.

Relations between Cuba and CARICOM continued to improve, culminating in the First Cuba-CARICOM Summit in Havana in December of 2001, on the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of relations between Cuba and the four largest English-speaking Caribbean nations. The summit led to the development by Cuba of a specific strategy toward the Caribbean and the event was repeated every three years — in Bridgetown in 2005, in Santiago de Cuba in 2008, and in Trinidad and Tobago in 2011 — along with numerous ministerial and technical meetings. In March of 2005, meanwhile, the Economic Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2000 between Cuba and the CARICOM countries went into effect.

As a result, although Cuba is not formally a full member of CARICOM, it currently has relations with 14 independent countries in the group and collaborates with them on health, education and energy programs, including the Miracle Mission, the Integrated Health Plan, which especially benefits Haiti and Belize, and the university scholarship program that has allowed more than 4,000 Caribbean professionals to graduate from Cuban universities since 1961, especially in the field of medicine. In 2008, meanwhile, trade between Havana and CARICOM members reached $95 million under the Economic Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 2000 and took effect in 2005. One area of particular cooperation among the nations is the threat of climate change and the impact of the hurricanes that regularly devastate the region.

Finally, the creation of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA, for its Spanish acronym) in 2002 and the gradual incorporation of some of the English-speaking Caribbean island nations into the organization have reinforced some nations’ relationships with both Cuba and Venezuela, as those two countries adjust their policies toward the region and as Venezuela has pursued active diplomacy based on petroleum trade over the past decade.

Author: Andrés Serbin
Published: January 30, 2013.

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