Caribbean Broadcasing Corporation, Barbados
Monday, 25 June 2007
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, last week stood firm on their relationship with Cuba and Venezuela, telling US president George W. Bush that both countries had helped to advance the development of the region.
Guyana’s president Bharrat Jagdeo, who is CARICOM’s lead prime minister on the issue, said it was Bush who first raised the matter during the talks between the US president and Caribbean leaders last week.
"I said to him, the United States of America has national interest considerations, [and that] often, these relate to security matters," he said.
"For us in the region, we, too, have national interest considerations," he added. "But our national interest considerations are a little bit different from those of the United States of America that they relate more to educating our people, getting them out of poverty and providing decent health care for them."
Jagdeo was addressing journalists at a post-summit press conference on Wednesday, at the headquarters of the Organisation of American States (OAS) here.
He said Cuba is helping the region to meet its national interest considerations, pointing out that the Spanish-speaking Communist country has been providing a number of doctors to the region.
"In Guyana’s case, I said to him that the students that we have studying in Cuba, if we were to send those students to the United States of America, it would cost us US$70 million," he said.
"That is important to me, educating the doctors," he added.
In addition, Jagdeo said he told Bush that Guyana uses 36 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product to import fuel, and that he will save US $45 million annually by entering the PetroCaribe oil agreement with Venezuela. Under the agreement, CARICOM countries get oil from the Spanish-speaking country on concessionary terms.
That surplus, he said, will help his administration in addressing its balance of payment problems.
The Guyanese president said he also told Bush that some countries in the region have "a worse situation" than his country regarding the cost of fuel on their domestic finances, especially their balance of payment situation.
"So we said that these are real initiatives they offer us help," he said.
"Often in US policy-making circles the region is seen as stooges, or could be induced by bribes, based on various initiatives to support Venezuela or Cuba on one or another matter," he added. "And that is far from the truth."
Jagdeo said there has never been any link between the PetroCaribe agreement and the training of Caribbean nationals in Cuba and support for any foreign policy initiatives of these two countries.
But he said he told Bush that CARICOM has to maintain good relations with Venezuela and Cuba because "combined they provide huge assistance to the region."
"If Cuba were to withdraw their doctors from Haiti, their health system would collapse," he said.
Jagdeo said, since the US was not providing similar offers to the region, it should, therefore, "see these considerations as vital to us, similarly as their relationship with Saudi Arabia and some other places, because Saudi Arabia is not a democracy."
"But the US maintains excellent relations with Saudi Arabia because it is one of the chief sources of oil coming into the US," he said.
"I said to him [Bush], we all believe in democracy in the region, and we all practice market economies. And, in my case, I don’t subscribe to the same economic policy like Cuba or Venezuela," he added. "But we will maintain good relations with these countries, because there are practical initiatives to help our region, and we appreciate that."
There has been a historical conflict between Washington and Communist Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro. More recently, Venezuela, under the socialist regime of Hugo Chavez, has also been in conflict with the US.
CARICOM chairman, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who addressed an earlier press conference, on the heels of the summit, said Bush raised the Cuba-Venezuela issue "not in a contentious manner and not in a manner indicating any dictation within the region."
He said he was not troubled by the raising of the issue since Cuba and Venezuela have "not asked anybody to do anything for them.
"We’re a free and independent people," Gonsalves said, flanked by his Barbadian counterpart, Owen Arthur. "We articulate our own voice.
"Modern globalisation enables us to face the world with more confidence," the Vincentian leader added, stating that he emphasised to Bush that the "engagement was between two civilizations, in which the states’ systems are important.
"And we want to build up a mature partnership, and that we saw this engagement not as an end in itself but as a process, a fresh start, a commencement of a more mature partnership and relationship," he continued.