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Rainy welcome for Cuban president

By —Julien Neaves

IT was mucha lluvia (heavy rain) during the ceremony to welcome Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday morning, as he arrived at the old Piarco International Airport for a two-day State visit.

At about 10.53, the 80-year-old President, full name Raul Modesto Castro Ruz, arrived in Trinidad aboard a chartered flight with his country's national airline and flag carrier Cubana de Aviacion. A persistent rain had begun about an hour before, soaking the gathered Defence Force guard of honour, some members of the media and a number of protocol officers.

President George Maxwell Richards, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, a number of Government ministers, members of the diplomatic corps, Cuban Ambassador to Trinidad Humberto Rivero Rosario and other officials from the Cuban Embassy had to be ushered to meet the smiling Castro and his delegation with umbrellas.

The local delegation was followed to the plane by a few members of the Defence Force. Castro's arrival was announced by a loud mortar gun salute, though it was about half of the usual 21 shots.

Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan told the media Castro was "extremely gracious" despite the inclement weather, and recalled him telling his delegation he would not come down from the red dais as the guards had been standing waiting for him and he wanted to give them "due honour even though he himself was soaked".

"So I think that is a mark of a man and a leader who respects people and who respects humanity as a whole," Rambachan added.

Castro briefly inspected the guard of honour and met with the local delegation for about 15 minutes in the VIP room before leaving in an armoured BMW for a busy itinerary, including bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister and a State dinner with the President, scheduled for last night.

Rambachan noted that some of the areas of discussion during the bilateral meetings include people development and human resource development and national carrier Caribbean Airlines' interest in flying to Cuba from Jamaica.

Questioned about the vehicle in which Castro was travelling, Rambachan reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had arranged for the vehicle to be sent from Venezuela for Castro.

Asked whether this showed a lack of confidence in local security, Rambachan pointed out that during the visit of US President Barack Obama in 2009, he brought 45 vehicles and most were armoured.

"So again you have to respect the rights of countries to how they protect their leaders. But we assured that he will be very safe in Trinidad and Tobago and this will be a most wonderful and beautiful outcomes summit," he said.

Castro, visiting this country for the first time since becoming President in 2008 when his iconic brother Fidel resigned, will be attending the fourth Caricom/Cuba Summit at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port of Spain, which will have its opening ceremony today at 10 a.m. It begins with opening remarks by Caricom Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque.

This will be followed by remarks by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then Caricom Chairman St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Denzel Douglas, followed by Castro. There will then be a closed-door session among the leaders. After lunch, there will be a plenary session. At the close, a press statement will be issued, officials said. Castro is scheduled to leave tomorrow.

The delegations of the 15 heads of state/government from Caricom for the summit have been arriving since Monday.

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