Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cuba On the Road to Latin American and Caribbean Unity

Havana. January 25, 2013

Cuba on the road to Latin American and Caribbean unity


CUBA is to assume the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) at the next Heads of State and Government Summit of the bloc in Chile, January 27-28.

Cuban exports to Latin America amount
to approximately 650 tariff positions,
and range from advanced biotechnology
products to construction materials.

As Cuban President Raúl Castro affirmed during the closing session of the 7th Legislature of the National Assembly of People's Power, "This is a great honor, a great responsibility, to which we are committed to devoting our best efforts and energy."

It also confirms CELAC member countries’ confidence in Cuba’s principles and values, its wide-reaching foreign policy, its vision of the problems facing humanity and characteristic solidarity, all of which will give new impetus to the bloc’s development and consolidation.

It is also palpable evidence of the failure of the U.S. policy of isolation maintained against Cuba since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

Resentful of the expression of unity and solidarity signified by any event of this nature in what it regards as its backyard, Washington has always attempted to block any kind of Cuban relations with the rest of the nations on the continent.

This policy of isolation began to collapse on December 8, 1972, when Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago all established diplomatic relations with Cuba, in an act of unquestionable political courage on the part of these small Caribbean nations.

"If we go back to the 1960’s, Cuba only had diplomatic relations with Mexico (given U.S. pressure) and very few commercial links in the region," noted Deputy Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Orlando Hernández Guillén, approached by Granma International for an overview of the current situation of commercial ties between Cuba and Latin American and Caribbean sister nations.

"After the decisive step in relation to Cuba taken by the four English-speaking Caribbean countries, little by little Latin American nations approached us, some of them utilizing commercial links and others the diplomatic context. And today, the country has become an active member of the Latin American community."

What does maintaining relations with nations of the region signify for Cuba?

The priority of ties with Latin America is included in the Constitution of the Republic, which establishes that our government bases its international relations on principles of equality of rights, self-determination, territorial integrity, the independence of states, beneficial international cooperation and mutual and equitable interest; as well as the peaceful resolution of controversies on equal footing, and other principles proclaimed in the United Nations Charter and other international treaties to which Cuba is a party.

At the same time, it reaffirms Cuba’s willingness to integrate and cooperate with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which share a common identity and the historic need to advance together toward economic and political integration in order to achieve genuine independence, something which will allow us to attain the position we merit in the world.

This is endorsed in the Guidelines approved at the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, which also specify basic aspects of our close ties with Latin America, through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) and the Association of Caribbean States, among other sub-regional institutions to which Cuba belongs. These have also provided a space for the development of relations with other countries, with the exception of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its sub-system of institutions.

Currently, Cuba’s foreign trade with the region represents more than 40% of its commercial interchange at the global level.

This places the country in one of the top spots in the region, with regards to the volume of intraregional trade.

In this aspect, the relations we have with Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela have an important weight. In the case of Venezuela, it is our first trading partner, from which we obtain a significant amount of the energy resources the country needs to complement national production.

Even though the Cuban government is developing concrete actions to promote the replacement of food imports, the country still spend $1,700-1,800 million (per year) in this context alone, and Latin America is an important supplier of foodstuffs, basically countries like Brazil and Argentina, which are large global exporters of food and also in the case of Cuba.

In terms of numbers, Cuban exports to Latin America amount to approximately 650 tariff positions within the region. This is not all that we would like, but it speaks of the development achieved in the last few years through trade, no longer confined to exports of sugar and nickel, which have little weight in the region, but diversified, ranging from services (especially in health) and biotechnology products to construction materials.

In the same way, we import from Latin America raw materials, intermediate products, machinery and equipment, above all from Brazil, whose industry has the capacity to contribute this kind of technological goods.

Through our relations with Latin American countries, today there are also financial resources to support these relations. We have credit lines with Brazil and Venezuela and these are an important base, not only in the context of trade, but to advance investment and development processes in the country.

For example, the Port of Mariel construction, which is going ahead with Brazilian cooperation and funding and the participation of Brazilian and Cuban entities. This monumental work is symbolic of Cuba’s cooperation with the region and particularly with that South American nation.

Other financial arrangements and credit lines with distinct characteristics are provided by Venezuela and these are playing a very important role in our economic/commercial activity.

What were the elements that favored the impetus of links with the sub-region?

Relations with Latin America have reached this point because of Cuba’s gradual progress in terms of preferential trade links with virtually all of the ALADI member countries, which created the conditions for the country to become the 12th full member of the largest Latin American economic integration group in 1999.

That made it possible to extend ties with this group of states and negotiate parallel agreements with Central American countries like Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and nations comprising the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In some cases these agreements have advanced more and respond to the political circumstances of our bilateral links, as is the case with Venezuela and Bolivia, with which Cuba currently has relations which we could say are equivalent to free trade, as there are no tariffs related to the circulation of merchandise.

We negotiated this in May 2012 with Venezuela and had previously done so with Bolivia.

I must mention that Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines as members comprise the ALBA, a new kind of integration organization which, on the basis of political processes taking place in the region, has made it possible to draw up plans of a far greater reach within the approximation and integration processes among our peoples in the economic, financial, social and cultural spheres.

Thus, Cuba is fully inserted in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and is incorporated in all the area’s coordination and integration structures, apart from the OAS.

How has Cuba been able to resist the hardships of the international financial crisis and, in particular, how has our foreign trade confronted the U.S. blockade?

We have been able to resist the hardships of the international financial crisis primarily because of our people’s capacity for resistance (the Cuban economy grew 3.1% in 2012) and an intelligent strategy at the point when the situation became more serious and tense; by seeking within the country all possible means of saving, channeling limited resources available into sectors with a capacity to generate income, and limiting imports.

All those who trusted in Cuba at that moment can see that they were fully justified, because as the Cuban economy has confronted the crisis with more success, the tense situations which presented themselves at one point with foreign counterparts have been resolved.

On the other hand, Cuba has been intelligent in terms of confronting the 50-year economic, commercial and financial blockade of the U.S. government, a measure strongly directed in its actions against our country’s financial sector at the international level.

The Obama administration is the one to have imposed the most fines on foreign banking institutions for engaging in normal relations with Cuba and obviously, that means that the country’s way of confronting the blockade has also been more astute and careful. In this battle we have the support of the international community, which has repeatedly condemned this failed policy in the United Nations and many other forums.

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