Dr. Douglas Slater and team meeting (r) with the Hon. Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Vice-Minister of Cuba and his team at the CARICOM Secretariat

Assistant Secretary-General, Human and Social Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, Dr. Douglas Slater, and Vice Minister of the Republic of Cuba, the Hon. Rogelio Sierra Diaz, have both given a commitment to continue to strengthen relations between CARICOM and Cuba.

They met at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown Guyana, on Wednesday where they held discussions on a number of issues related to a Disabilities Project, the extension of Art programmes at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica, and matters related to trade.

ASG Slater spoke on behalf of Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community Ambassador Irwin LaRocque. In the discussions on the Disabilities Project, Dr. Slater noted that a tri-lateral MoU among the Government of Guyana, the Government of Cuba and CARICOM had already been signed. He explained that there was a decision to implement the Project in phases and outlined that a Centre has been constructed by the Government of Guyana. A team from Cuba is already in Guyana working on the Project. He said when the initial phase was completed in Guyana and there was a clear way forward, the Project would be extended to the other CARICOM Member States. He said that there was progress, but work was still left to be done.

Minister Diaz, in responding to Dr. Slater’s remarks about the Project, said firm steps had been taken and there was a lot to be thankful for. He said it was now important to acquire the equipment needed. In relation to the phase of the Project that would extend it to the other CARICOM Member States, he said that the CARICOM Secretary-General and staff would play a key role in achieving the goals of that phase. Both parties agreed that there were still some details that needed to be refined between CARICOM and the Government of Guyana. The Cuban Vice-Minister gave the assurance that Cuba would provide support, knowledge and training, but emphasized that the project belonged to CARICOM.

Turning to the matter of the extension of programmes in the School of Art at the Edna Manley School in Jamaica, the Cuban Ambassador said the Government of Jamaica had been contacted and the areas in which Cuba could provide assistance were identified. He explained that it was being proposed that there might be some additional infrastructural requirements for the project to move forward. Various options to address this challenge were being explored. The Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica has expressed to the Jamaican Government the need to move ahead with the project. Dr. Slater expressed an interest in further engagement on the matter and also gave an assurance that the CARICOM Secretariat would engage with the Edna Manley School to explore the available options.

Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, Mr. Joseph Cox, was also at the meeting. He spoke about a trade and economic partnership agreement that had been regionally applied in 12 Member States and highlighted that Haiti had now expressed an interest in joining the agreement.

We have commenced our engagements with Haiti in this regard and we will have further engagements with Cuba regarding their inclusion and that should happen in the very near future”, Mr. Cox said.

In relation to a Joint Commission in which the second protocol was signed in November 2017, he advised that Member States needed to accelerate their efforts to satisfy the legal requirements to be party to the Commission. Under the agreement, more than 300 Caribbean products would have fees removed for export to Cuba. The Cuban Vice-Minister said he understood that there were legal protocols that would have to be addressed, but implored CARICOM not to allow them to create further delays.

The goal of the protocol is to improve trade relations between CARICOM and Cuba. The Cuban economy needs the exports of the CARICOM countries and there are great opportunities for CARICOM countries to send exports to Cuba. We need to ratify this protocol so we can start using it”, he said.

ASG Cox advised that the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) would meet on Thursday, 14 June, 2018 and he would use the opportunity to remind Member States about the importance of ratifying the protocol. Dr. Slater also gave the assurance that the CARICOM Secretary-General would engage with the Member States to impress upon them the need to put the legal measures in place with new impetus.

In concluding the meeting, the Cuban Vice-Minister expressed a desire for Cuban President, His Excellency Miguel Diaz-Canel, to meet with the CARICOM Ministers at a mutually convenient time. It was agreed that further discussions would be held and arrangements made to facilitate the request.

The Cuban Vice-Minister was accompanied by Cuban Ambassador to Guyana, His Excellency Renaldo Socorro, Director of Caribbean Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Mr. Jorge Mayo Fernandez, and Cuban Interpreter Ms. Dianna Mora. Representatives from the CARICOM Secretariat included Adviser, Foreign and Community Relations, Ms. Valerie Alleyne-Odle, Programme Manager, Human Resource Development, Dr. Laurette Bristol, and Coordinator, Health and Human Development, Ms. Beverly Reynolds.