Saturday, December 16, 2017

Single hopeful outcome of summit talks in Cuba

Express editorial logo313

Mark Fraser

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who raised the T&T flag in Havana at the uniquely prestigious second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean (CELAC) states, will have come away with more than autographed souvenirs.

The CELAC meeting brought together last week leaders of all independent countries in the hemisphere, pointedly to the exclusion of those in Canada and the US. The US was likely especially unwelcome in a forum founded by the late “Bolivarian” militant, President Hugo Chavez, whose anti-American, pro-hemispheric legacy the meeting represents.

That the meeting was held in Havana must only have underscored the outsider, and even hostile, posture of the US in a Cuba marking the 50th anniversary of the US diplomatic and economic embargo. The Raul Castro administration has been pursuing restoration of direct mail service with the US, which had been cut off by Washington in 1963.

The stop-and-start diplomacy such restoration has entailed serves as a measure of long-standing US efforts to marginalise and frustrate Cuba. Again the US State Department made clear that possible restoration of direct mail links should be regarded as a “technical” matter, signalling no material policy change.

Inevitably, the ending of the US embargo, long internationally championed, and once again last year affirmed by majority UN General Assembly vote, figured in the psychological background to the CELAC summit. The world, apart from the US and its most diehard supporters on this issue, has moved on in this regard.

Thus, attendance at CELAC by Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, and his OAS counterpart Jose Miguel Insulza, confirmed the surpassing significance of the summit. It was the first visit to Havana by any OAS leader, since the start of regional ostracism by the US.

Mrs Persad-Bissessar and her Caricom colleagues, thus enjoyed distinguished company, in discussions themed “The fight against poverty, hunger and inequality”. The summit considered and adopted “special declarations”, among them, one on the promotion of equity and empowerment of women.

Another “declaration” of timely significance to gun-crime-ridden T&T covered the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons. Such is the interest in that measure shown by the Prime Minister that she offered T&T as the location for the secretariat of a hopeful hemispheric arms trade treaty.

It must have been too much to hope that Caricom would have taken the CELAC opportunity to advance the pressing cause of ending blatant Dominican Republic anti-Haitian discrimination. Nothing on this topic was recorded by the official T&T statement. Nor did it contain any CELAC disapproval of the behind-the-times punitive US policies toward Cuba.

T&T is thus left to hope for success in the more than symbolic location here of a secretariat dedicated to countering the criminal spread and use of small arms.