Building the logistical capacity within the region and examining disaster-risk management, starting from Cuba to Suriname, was a point of focus for officials at the sixth Cuba-CARICOM summit held at Carlisle Bay.
The summit also focused on development cooperation, trade and economic relations between the member states and the Republic of Cuba.
It was with that in mind that Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that the absence of sea and air links between Cuba and CARICOM states had been a “limiting factor” in the movement of people and goods across the region.
According to him one of the proposals made during the summit, was the “possible acquisition of a shipping line to operate between islands to move goods in either direction across the Caribbean archipelago.
“The recommendation was made to us that we as governments should commit to investing in the possible acquisition of a few ships that could assist with the movement of goods throughout the region,” he continued.
Browne said that strengthening transportation was discussed, and a commitment was made to name a committee tasked with “advising us on how soon we can enhance our sea and air links.”
A major development at the summit was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and Cuba’s Agency for Civil Defence which both track and respond to the catastrophic hurricanes that afflict the region and the stress that they pose to regional agencies.
Irwin LaRocque, secretary-general of CARICOM, said that the MOU “allows further elaboration of agreements in terms of human resource development training, planning and coordination around the metrological services of our respective countries.”
He noted that yesterday’s signing, “only seeks to put in a document what is already happening,” because the Cuban government’s relief and support started immediately in countries such as Dominica and Barbuda.
The summit, co-chaired by Grenadian Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, Cuban President and Raul Castro Ruz marked the 45th anniversary of the establishment of CARICOM-Cuba diplomatic relations.
In his closing statements he revealed that the leaders want to implement “multi-destination tourism” at the regional level. This move, in his opinion, will not negatively impact each state’s individual product once marketing is maintained.
He said that when the relationship with Cuba and North America started improving, a “fear that a lot of tourists would now move towards Cuba and not the Caribbean region,” was misplaced.
“We did not see a drop in tourism activity and we don’t expect that that will happen. So signing an agreement and working closer in transport through sea and air can have a significant impact on the regional economies,” he said.
PM Mitchell used the platform to thank the Cuban people for support in the fields of education and health throughout the region. In his address he said that at the close of the 2016-academic year, 5,432 Caribbean students had graduated from Cuban institutions in several areas of study, including health and medicine, sports, agriculture and trade.
“Since 2014 the scholarships increased by 20 percent, and there are currently 653 undergraduates and 70 post-graduates from the scholarship programme,” Mitchell concluded.