By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)
America and other military colossuses of this world can and indeed do in their practice of foreign policy, follow Kissinger’s doctrine of having no permanent friends, only interests. However, if tiny, extremely vulnerable, poor, and virtually powerless nations like SVG were to ignore the need for solidarity, this would be perilous. Building solid fraternal relations is sin qua non not only for protecting their sovereignty and independence, but to their survival! Their viability as sovereign states depends inter alia on appreciation by others of their unique challenges, hence their need for genuine friends, while avoiding and discouraging enmity. This idea is the nucleus of the philosophical foundation of SVG’s foreign policy, and from whence its cornerstone principle, “Friends of all, we strive for a better world.”
This indispensable wisdom manifested in practice, standing our nation tall, is not wholly original. The first phrase is borrowed from Errol Walton Barrow, who shepherded Barbados to independence. We apply his concept mutatis mutandis, extolling the need for friendly relations between nations in this turbulent world. Therefore, we extend our hands unclenched to leftist, rightist, Islamism, socialist, the great, small, rich, and poor, willing the construct of a better, saner world. We’ve reached out to Libya’s now deceased Gaddafi, Russia’s Putin, and Iran’s Raisi, -all considered rogues by the global gendarmes-, for in sowing seeds of friendship, one must join hands with those deemed enemies by others, while if truth be told, they are very good Samaritans, Cuba being a case in point.
The connection between these islands existed eons before they were colonized.
Our indigenous peoples canoed from the Orinoco to The Bahamas long prior the arrival of imperialism’s violent fists, and genocidal settler colonialism. Our link was damaged; never broken! In modern times many Vincentians made the trek to Cuba, some remained, as the Teófilo Stevenson’s story confirms. 1959 saw the birth of the Cuban revolution. Incensed, the American empire branded Cuba an enemy. But like Bill Withers, magnanimous Fidel and disobedient SVG know, we must of necessity, lean on each other, and so rejected this vile maxim that we must be fist pumping at one another.
When our volcano erupted in 1979, Cuba offered assistance. St. Vincent, yet under British colonial yoke, defied American isolationist politics and accepted what we could. Cuba further stretched forth its hands, granting our youths scholarships. They are now solid professionals, thanks to this first-wave of generosity. With the triumph of the Grenada revolution in 1979, the US up the ante, intensifying its anti-Cuba policy, continuing this even after that revolution was murdered in infancy. PM James Mitchell seeing the rest of CARICOM’s firm rebuke of Washington by their rebuff of its hegemonic confrontational stance, established diplomatic relations with Havana in 1992. From thence the SVG-Cuba ties strengthened. The watershed came in 2001 when the ULP stormed to office.
Under Gonsalves’ leadership our relations blossomed into a mutually beneficial embrace. Cuba has held our hands in education, health, infrastructure and more. We staunchly defend Cuba in every forum regardless of what America says! We stand in solidarity with Cubans during disasters; we work closely in all fora of the Americas, and in broader international arenas such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the UN. During the Obama years, we played our little part in the brief small thaw in US clenched-fist behaviour to Cuba. Notwithstanding that Washington has since retightened its fists, we are hosting the long-overdue visit of a Cuban President, saying unequivocally to Brother Díaz-Canel, “Nuestra casa es su casa!” for Cuba has said to us so many times, “Mi casa es su casa.”
I often expressed via the press the wish that Fidel visited SVG. Sadly, he departed for Valhalla without this being realized. I have also called for a prominent street or place to be named in his honour in recognition of Cuba holding hand not just with us and CARICOM, but with all oppressed humanity. This moment is here now! We must never forget Cuba’s role in the liberation of the countries of Southern Africa; nor should we forget its medical humanitarian missions to many parts of the world; and its selfless generosity to the Third World. If ever a country showed what love from a nation looks like, it’s Fidel’s Cuba. And “love is the answer” according to our own Dr. Alston “Becket” Cyrus. Finally, it must be underlined that the visit of President Díaz-Canel is not merely a reflection of good SVG-Cuba relations. Rather it is a powerful example of leadership in the cause of upholding international law and morality, grounded in friendship and respect for national sovereignty, which are essential for international peace and security.