PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago.— Cuban President Raul Castro arrived in Trinidad and Tobago December 7 to begin his first official visit to this Caribbean nation and to attend the Fourth CARICOM-Cuba Summit.
Port of Spain greeted the Cuban president under a heavy rainstorm, but with incomparable hospitality. Despite the rain, the official welcoming ceremony went ahead as planned. The troops lined the airport forecourt and the president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Army General George Maxwell Richards; Prime Minister Kamla Persard-Bissessar; and the minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications, Surujrattan Rambachan, received Raul Castro at the foot of the aircraft.
The prime minister lamented the persistent rain, to which Raul replied with his habitual sincerity, "Rain is welcome, drought is bad news," and smiled. After being introduced by the Trinidadian president to the Joint Chief of Defense, the group walked along the red carpet to the official reception platform while TV cameras captured every detail of this warm reception.
The reception began with a musical band playing the anthems of Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago and a 21-gun salute.
The Honor Guard Commander and Joint Chief of Staff, together with the Cuban president, proceeded to inspect the troops.
In the Piarco International Airport’s diplomatic lounge, President George Maxwell Richards introduced Raul to the members of his cabinet, and greeted the Cuban delegation comprised of Vice President of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz.
The convoy then made the 26-kilometer journey to the Kapok Hotel, close to the center of the capital. The rain did not let up for an instant. During 30 minutes the delegation moved along the large freeway and as it approached the city, colorful modest homes became visible on the hillsides, as well as modern buildings and houses in more subdued tones with pitched roofs to protect them from the constant rainfall in these parts.
Trinidad and Tobago are two islands that together make up one Caribbean nation, although they have different histories. Trinidad was discovered by Christopher Columbus during his third voyage to America in 1498, while Tobago remained isolated and inhabited by Carib Indians until the arrival of the Dutch in 1632.
As was the case with other colonies in the region, both islands were the scene of numerous invasions: Dutch, French and English, until they were finally ceded to England in 1802, with their status as British colonies formalized in 1814. After a gradual process of autonomy, they attained their independence on August 31, 1962.
Initially Trinidad and Tobago’s national economic base was sugar, which little by little was replaced by oil, becoming the country’s principal economic activity in 1940.
Located in the southern Caribbean Sea, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has an extension of 5,000 square kilometers and barely 1.33 million inhabitants. The official language is English, while French, Spanish, Creole, Hindi and Chinese are also spoken.
Port of Spain is a very clean city, currently decorated for Christmas and New Year festivities, as is the Kapok Hotel.
In the afternoon, the Cuban President and his accompanying delegation were received by President George Maxwell Richards at the Knowsley Residence. Before the start of official talks, Raul Castro signed the Visitors’ Book, thus recording his visit to this sister nation. He wrote, “I bring to Trinidad and Tobago, together with fraternal greetings from the Cuban people, our eternal gratitude for the full relations established 39 years ago, in conjunction with Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana.”
He thus recalled that historic December 8, 1972 when these four states established diplomatic ties with Cuba, which from 1962 had been isolated from most of the other nations in the region on the instructions of the United States and the Organization of American States.
After this meeting, the Cuban President, accompanied by his Trinidadian counterpart, placed a wreath at the Memorial Park monument honoring those who served and the memory of those who died in World War I and World War II
Under a continuing drizzle Raul Castro then went to the Diplomatic Center for official talks with Prime Minister Kamla Persard-Bissessard, the first woman to hold this position in Trinidad and Tobago. There, he also signed the Visitors’ Book, acknowledging the high level reached in relations with the Caribbean nation, and confirming on behalf of Cuba, a readiness to continue developing these ties, as with the entire Caribbean Community.
Once again, the Cuban president thanked the prime minister for the stand taken by her country, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados in 1972 in initiating diplomatic relations with our nation, a gesture he affirmed was a contribution of incalculable value.
He recalled that it was decided during the First CARICOM-Cuba Summit in Havana on December 8, 2002 to constitute this date as CARICOM-Cuba Day, in recognition of the courage of these four nations. Moreover, their decision, made 39 years ago, opened the way to the remaining Caribbean countries to develop ties of friendship and cooperation with Cuba.
In the evening of December 7, the Cuban delegation attended an official dinner at the invitation of the Trinidadian president in the Knowsley Residence, where the two leaders highlighted in their speeches the historical significance of the decision taken in 1972. Raul astro emphasized that Cuba will continue fighting alongside all the Caribbean nations to consolidate the friendship and integral nature of their relations. The dinner ended with a toast to the Caribbean Community, to Trinidad and Tobago, and to Cuba.
The night was advancing in Port of Spain but its activities continued. Final preparations were underway at the National Academy of Performance Arts, the venue for the Fourth CARICOM-Cuba Summit that begins on December 8. Once again, integration is the main theme of discussion on the agenda of the Caribbean nations as our peoples come together to discuss shared concerns and to extend their relations in the midst of a global economic crisis, whose reach and depth remain unforeseeable.
As Cuban President Raul Castro stated in the opening ceremony of the Third CARICOM-Cuba Summit in 2008 in Santiago de Cuba, “Under such circumstances, the commitments we have prudently built in recent years gain greater importance, with cooperation and solidarity forming the cornerstones of our relations.”