Prime Minister of Antigua Gaston Browne leaves the island on Tuesday for Los Angeles, California in the USA for the 9th Summit of the Americas (June 6-10).
The Prime Minister will be accompanied by his wife, the Hon. Maria Browne who will attend forums for First Ladies and wives attending the Summit.
The Summit of the Americas to be attended by Western Hemisphere leaders will discuss building a sustainable and resilient future along with democracy, technology and pandemic resilience.
Prime Minister Browne who had initially indicated that he will not be attending the Summit due to the Summit organisers’ unwillingness to invite the leadership of Cuba and Venezuela, said that CARICOM held a special caucus on the issue and decided that they should attend due to the United States softening position towards Cuba and Venezuela.
“We felt that, in good faith, at least, the United States has softened its position so we should attend,” PM Browne said in an interview on Monday.
Prime Minister of St Vincent Ralph Gonsalves and Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell appear to be the only two regional leaders who are not attending the event.
Gonsalves had publicly stated that he wouldn’t attend because of the situation regarding Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua while Dr. Mitchell is involved in campagaining for general elections in his country on June 23.
Browne said CARICOM continues to advocate for additional changes.
“The United States would have said certain things to us in confidence,” he said. “And we believe that on that basis that we could participate while at the same time agitating for additional changes – additional concessions for Cuba and Venezuela in particular. Senator Christopher Dodd and others would have spoken to me and encouraged me to participate. I would have said to him and others in the U.S. government that Antigua and Barbuda is not fighting any ideological war. We felt that we had a moral obligation to stand with our hemispheric partners in terms of ensuring participation and ensuring that there is no ostracism.
Prime Minister Browne stated that Caribbean leaders will use the opportunity to defend the Caribbean’s position noting that the United States has shown some interest in the Caribbean during the COVID pandemic by providing vaccines and PPE’s.
“I think they ought to go further. And when you look at the fact that COVID is going to be endemic, there is going to be further economic damage on countries in the Caribbean. The United States should be helping us to put together a ‘post-COVID’ Marshall Plan to salvage our economies,” he said.
The country’s leader pointed out that the Caribbean needs real, practical solutions to their problems and therefore believes that this is an opportunity for them to advocate on behalf of the Caribbean people for increased collaboration and support from the United States.
“In terms of the supply of vaccines for the Caribbean region, recognizing that COVID will be endemic, the United States should be able to help us put a sustainable COVID strategy in place. We have had problems accessing vaccines on a timely basis and purchasing vaccines has been prohibitive. I don’t see why they can’t help us to establish a vaccine manufacturing facility. We can have great accessibility to vaccines and vaccines that are more affordable. These are the kind of collaboration that we need,” PM Browne said.
He said that one of the aims of his government at the summit will be to encourage President Biden to change the aggressive policy towards Cuba in particular, and Venezuela. He said that there is the need for hemispheric solidarity and not policies driven by any state in the United States where a large percentage of Cubans reside.
“An American president must stand and bell the cat and not be dictated by some in Florida. You are telling me that because they want to win that seat, that they are going to make the lives of tens of millions of people in Cuba and Venezuela miserable. That kind of geopolitics is backward looking,” he said.
He noted that he wants to see a President Biden who will be more empathetic, noting that he must make the best of his term and make positive and impactful decisions to change the policies on Cuba and on Venezuela. “Let’s get a truly integrated and united hemisphere. This would be a great legacy and a better legacy than winning the state of Florida. So I hope we can have some of those frank discussions at the summit and clearly boycotting is not going to achieve that,” Prime Minister Browne stated.
He pointed out that the Summit is expected to discuss clean energy and the climate crisis, and how the public and private sectors can work together to solve large environmental problems. He noted that the commitments made at the Summit are expected to transform the hemisphere and the lives of its inhabitants.