Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is getting a chance to interact with his Caribbean counterparts and we in the region are also having an opportunity to meet the Cuban leader who has been a relatively unknown figure.
Díaz-Canel has started a regional tour that has taken him across the Eastern Caribbean with a well-publicised and high-profile stop in Barbados, as we celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with the largest Caribbean state.
After so many decades of associating Cuba with the Castro name, it made sense for the relatively new Cuban leader to get to know some of his strongest allies.
Earlier this year, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves invested much political capital in a failed effort to have the United States of America change its position to ban Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from attending the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.
“You cannot have a summit of the Americas with only some people, you must include everybody,” Gonsalves said on the Face-to-Face radio programme, adding that he planned to boycott the event hosted by President Joe Biden if the countries were not invited.
The history of Cuba and its relations with the Western world has been a complicated one. On the one hand, most democracies and democratic leaders have expressed their preference for a Cuba in which its 11 million citizens are allowed their full potential and enjoy the freedoms that we in Barbados, for example, take for granted.
We wish for the best of the socialist system of Cuba, with the idea of equity, that each person’s contribution to society is valued, that the wealth of the country should be shared amongst all its people. Moreover, that all its people should be well educated, and their health care needs provided.
We have also marvelled at the ingenuity, innovation, determination, and resilience of the Cuban people who have suffered long under the crushing weight of the economic embargo imposed by the USA.
At the same time, we will not romanticize what life is like on the island for ordinary Cuban citizens. We know that there have been concerns about the treatment of black Cubans for example.
Many have taken note of the fact that the leadership of Cuba has largely not featured Black Cubans in a way that represents their composition in the Cuban population.
This may seem contradictory, given Cuba’s well-documented contribution to the fight for freedom by some African nations and its stand against racism.
There is an acceptance that the 60-year USA embargo has done little to bring about political change in Cuba. It has only added to the suffering of the Cuban people.
The embargo has been an abject failure. Countries simply do not see Cuba as an enemy or a nation to be feared. In fact, while the USA has tightened the screws on Cuba, the island nation has unleashed its charm offensive.
Cuba has placed its highly vaunted health care apparatus at the disposal of many grateful Caribbean nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, in the early stages of the pandemic when fear was at its greatest, Cuban doctors were travelling around the world in humanitarian programmes.
As a result, most Western countries are sympathisers of Cuba, though they also want to maintain the American goodwill.
In his Barbados leg of the mission, Díaz-Canel has promised to work with our government in the fight for food security. During the Caribbean Community summit at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, the Cuban leader offered his country’s scientific prowess to assist in food production.
“We also have a number of technologies that we have developed on the basis of scientific facilities, and we have implemented science and technology for the purpose of food production. At a time when US blockades have been flared up, preventing us from accessing financing in order to import inputs required for agriculture, we are relying on things such as bio-products and other organic products which give us the yields we desire,” Díaz-Canel outlined.
There is much that the region can learn from Cuba. At the same time, as friends of Cuba and the Cuban people, the region also has an obligation to use those relations to positively influence the nation to do more on human rights and freedoms on the island.