Castro issued this condemnation as he addressed the opening ceremony of the Fourth Caricom- Cuba Summit at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA).

His condemnation came on the heels of calls earlier in the ceremony by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas for the embargo to be lifted. The embargo was implemented against Cuba by US President John F Kennedy on February 7, 1962.

In thanking Caricom nations for supporting Cuba against “an embargo that remains essentially unchanged,” Castro noted that Obama had announced the partial relaxation of regulations imposed on the island which would allow Cubans resident in the US to send remittances back to their relatives in Cuba.

However, the Cuban leader slammed Obama for taking no concrete steps to lift the embargo.

“The expectations of the so-called 2009 Summit of the Americas held in this city (Port-of-Spain) have failed to rise above the rhetoric,” Castro declared.

When he attended the Fifth Summit of the Americas in this country in 2009, Obama said the US would consider lifting the embargo if the Cuban government was prepared to make significant reforms, especially where human rights were concerned. Castro said he expected any commitment which Obama may still have towards lifting the embargo will be “even less now, when in a year, elections will be held (in the United States)”. US presidential elections are due in 2012.

Against this background, Castro praised Latin American and Caribbean countries for holding the inaugural meeting of the Community of Caribbean and Latin American States (CELAC) in Caracas, Venezuela, last week.

Describing CELAC as a step in the right direction to help Latin American and Caribbean countries address common challenges, Castro declared, “Cuba is fully committed to this endeavour and is convinced that Latin America’s integration will be impossible and incomplete without the Caribbean nations being involved.”

Claiming the Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa will yield no benefits for small island nations, Castro said a recent study estimated that by 2015, “2.3 percent of the natural land mass of Cuba will be permanently submerged” if appropriate measures were not taken to deal with global warming. He said the study estimated 79,400 Cubans would be affected by such a scenario.

After saying Latin American and Caribbean countries should assist in the rebuilding of Haiti in accordance with the wishes of the Haitian government, Castro thanked Persad-Bissessar for the “excellent organisation” made by Government for the summit.

While he spoke with the aid of a translator, Castro promised, “In the near future, the president representing my country at that time will be able to do this in English.”

He caused the audience to laugh when he said his English was “very, very bad.” Disclosing that his mother hired a Jamaican woman to teach him English when he was a boy, Castro said he often “went to play” when his mother was not looking and his tutor kept his secret.

In her address, Persad-Bissessar said Cuba “should not continue to suffer in isolation” and Caricom countries were among 186 states who voted at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October for the US to end the embargo. Noting the Caricom-Cuba Joint Commission had not met since 2005, Persad-Bissessar urged the delegates, “We must work assiduously to breathe new life into the Caricom-Cuba Joint Commission.” Douglas, the current Caricom chairman, said through this summit, Caricom once again called upon the US government “to heed the overwhelming call of members of the United Nations to lift with immediate effect, the unjust economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against the Republic of Cuba.”

“Viva Caricom-Cuba,” he declared.

Speaking with reporters after the opening ceremony, Persad-Bissessar slammed one daily newspaper (not Newsday) for a story it published yesterday which claimed the licence for the summit to be held at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann’s was pending. After describing the story as “erroneous” and calling for it to be retracted, Persad-Bissessar directed Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan to speak on this issue.

“The contract with the Hilton was signed on October 24 and we are now in December. The Hilton gave us the undertaking that everything would have been filed. It was on December 6 that we received a letter from the Hilton indicating they had not gotten permission from the US authorities to have the Cubans stay at Hilton or the conduct of the summit at the Hilton,” Rambachan said.

“So TT is in no way culpable or to be blamed in any way at all for this matter. It was totally in the hands of the Hilton and in terms of their relations and discussions with the United States,” he added.

After Rambachan spoke, Persad-Bissessar said, “I do not want TT to create any diplomatic faux pas with any country. We are friends and neighbours to all.”

As she commended Rambachan for the organisation of the summit, the Prime Minister reiterated, “We have diplomatic relations with the US. We respect their foreign policy and I hope they respect ours.

Therefore it is not appropriate for us to comment on matters relating to their foreign policy. We are friends and neighbours to all. This matter is based on US foreign policy.”

Persad-Bissessar also revealed that Government gave Castro a gift of holy water from the monastery at Mount St Benedict and Castro indicated a desire to return to this country some time in the future to “get more of that holy water from Mount St Benedict.”

She said Government was advised by the Venezuelan Ambassador to TT to give Castro this gift because “he is a very devout Catholic.”

Persad-Bissessar also gave a gift of holy water to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez when she attended the CELAC conference in Caracas.

Castro leaves the country this morning at 9 am.



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