I welcome you all to the Sixth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Caribbean Community and the Republic of Cuba. I extend my special appreciation to Prime Minister Gaston Browne and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for assuming the responsibility of hosting the Summit at such a challenging period of time.
Indeed our Region is going through a challenging time with the effects of climate change as evidenced by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused extensive loss of life and damage.
In that regard, President Castro, may I take this opportunity to reiterate our sympathies to the Government and People of Cuba on the deaths caused by the Hurricanes last September. I must also express our gratitude for your generous assistance to the CARICOM Member States who were also affected by the Hurricanes, despite your country’s own difficulties,
Excellencies, over the years the Caribbean Community and Cuba have forged a strong and meaningful relationship. It stems from, and builds on, the courageous and symbolic act of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. On 8 December 1972, in the midst of the tensions of the Cold War, these countries established diplomatic relations with their Caribbean sister nation Cuba. Since then, deep fraternal relations have been developed between all CARICOM Member States and Cuba. We maintain our strong solidarity with the Government and People of Cuba.
Today, CARICOM-Cuba Day, we proudly commemorate and celebrate that historic event. Our Heads of State and Government have chosen to meet on this day every three years to mark this occasion and strengthen our bond. It is the highlight of our political relationship which also includes meetings of our Foreign Ministers which take place eighteen months prior to the Summit.
Other formal mechanisms, such as the CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement, with its Joint Commission, and technical cooperation Memoranda of Understanding, also contribute to the dynamism of the relationship.
Excellencies, at our Fifth Summit, there was a focus on the expansion of market access and the necessity to improve economic cooperation under the CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement. A month ago, I had the honour to sign the Second Protocol to that Agreement on behalf of CARICOM. This Protocol expanded duty-free access to each other’s market for a range of products. This marked a further deepening of the trade and economic relations between CARICOM and Cuba.
It signals the prospects for even stronger and more profound trade and economic ties. While the United States seeks to re-impose their failed policies of trade and financial embargoes against Cuba, which we condemn, CARICOM is committed to further strengthening its partnership with Cuba as new opportunities are sought to expand our trade and investment relationship.
Also, arising from decisions at that Fifth Summit, I had the honour of signing an Agreement with the representative of the Government of Cuba and the Foreign Minister of Guyana, as host country, to establish the Regional Centre for the Stimulation of the Development in Children, Adolescents and Young People with Special Educational Needs Associated with Disabilities.
The objective of this regional Centre is to contribute to effective care for young people with disabilities through capacity building of teachers and caregivers. It will also promote processes for prevention, diagnosis and early stimulation. It will therefore allow for their fuller integration into our Community. This is in keeping with our own Declaration of Petionville on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Government of Guyana has constructed the building to host the Centre and is in the process of acquiring the equipment and furnishings.
A technical team from Cuba has been in the Region discussing content, duration of training, and eligibility criteria for entering the training programme. This knowledge transfer is an integral part of the project as it assists our regional stakeholders prior to the opening of the Centre.
With regard to the other regional project agreed to at our last Summit for the establishment of the Caribbean Regional School of Arts, discussions are on-going with the Government of Jamaica, the designated host.
As we celebrate forty-five years of our relations, today’s discussions will serve to further enhance an already rich partnership. The Agenda affords us the opportunity to have a dialogue on disaster prevention and management, on adaptation to the threats of climate change, and to advance our strategies for confronting the challenges to the sustainable development and welfare of the people of CARICOM and Cuba.
I must recognise the excellent work being done collaboratively between climate scientists of CARICOM and Cuba on the impacts of global warming. Their work is showing that we will attain the 1.5 degree centigrade warmer world much sooner than anticipated, bringing with it much harsher climatic conditions to the Caribbean. This makes the MOU between the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the National Civil Defence of Cuba of even greater significance.
As I conclude, allow me to express our sincere appreciation to the Government and People of Antigua and Barbuda for the warm CARICOM welcome that we have received here in St. Mary’s, and the excellent arrangements which have been put in place for the Summit. It has set the tone to ensure every success in our deliberations
I thank you.