The Caribbean community (Caricom) has reaffirmed its commitment to peace first signed in the 2014 Declaration, Cuba's General Director of Latin America and Caribbean Eugenio Martinez confirmed Friday.
The declaration recognizes "the inalienable right of each member state to chose its political, economic, social and cultural system."
Ahead of the opening ceremony celebrating the first day of the 6th Caricom-Cuba Summit in Antigua and Barbuda on Friday, St. Vincent and the Grenadines' Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalvez also said the nations will jointly demand U.S. President Donald Trump "abandon" the blockade on Cuba.
In an interview with Cuban press agency Prensa Latina, the head of state said that the blockade was an "anachronistic piece of the past that is rejected by both the Cuban and American people."
The meeting celebrates 45 years of relations between Cuba and the original four Caricom nations, which now include 20 countries from across the region.
Caricom Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer Irwin LaRocque extended his condolences to countries that suffered loss of life and damage from hurricanes Maria and Irma. He also thanked President Raul Castro and the Cuban government for their commitment to helping other Caribbean nations after the hurricanes while managing their own losses.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne welcomed the heads of state, saying that on this day in 1973, four Caribbean nations solidified their commitment to build relations with Cuba, despite U.S. economic and political sanctions on the country. He said Fidel Castro's legacy was "equality and social justice."
Browne condemned the continued U.S. sanctions on Cuba, noting that Caricom and Cuba "have a proud history of resistance toward oppression to maintain independence." He said they should continue to work together to "overcome" oppression from forces outside of the region.
Browne said their "greatest assets" are their mutual cooperation: "Cuba has helped to make the region more resilient," he said, continually helping regional nations with medicine, education and agriculture efforts over the past six decades.
Castro, who along with Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell of Grenada is chairing the summit, said that in order to defeat the "social, environmental, economic and political crisis in the Americas," all must engage in "cooperation among our nations."
"We should harmonize our positions to demand" that industrialized countries commit to climate change and share technology information to combat and minimize the effects of climate change, he said. "We need to make a united front."
Castro said he looks forward to the implementation in January 2018 of the Second Protocol to the Caricom-Cuba Trade Agreement, signed in November. The protocol expands reciprocal duty free market access to more than 320 items, including a variety of agricultural and meat products, beer, rum and cement.
Castro said he also looks forward to implementing renewed cultural efforts, including a Cuba-supported art school in Jamaica and a special education school in Guyana.
Throughout the three-day event, heads of state will discuss regional climate-change adaptation and disaster risk-management. Leaders will sign a pact between the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and Cuba's Agency for Civil Defence to fortify regional natural disaster preparedness. They will also discuss international security, trade and economics.