KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – A delegation from Cuba has taken part for the first time in a Caribbean regional security conference co-hosted by the United States. But officials sought to downplay their participation as the four-day event came to a close Friday in the Jamaican capital.
Maj. Gen. Antony Bertram Anderson of the Jamaica Defense Force, which co-hosted the event with U.S. Southern Command, started a closing news conference by thanking the U.S. for agreeing to invite Cuba for the first time to the annual event and the Cubans for sending a delegation. He noted, however, that their presence was not a focus of attention.
"They were at the table like everybody else," Anderson said. "It was quite a normal thing. It is the first time but it is what it is. They are a regional country."
U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, the new commander of Miami-based Southern Command, said Cuba was one of the 18 countries from across the region taking part in discussions of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and other challenges.
"We share challenges, all of the countries across this region," Tidd said. "Cuba is one of those countries in this region. And so I believe in the future we'll have opportunities to find ways to work together."
Later, Army Col. Lisa Garcia, a Southern Command spokeswoman, said that Jamaica had technically issued the invitation since it was the host country and that Tidd did not mention the Cuban participation in his official closing remarks because "the conference was about more than Cuba; it was about all the Caribbean nations."
The admiral said the subject of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, did not come up. The base is the oldest U.S. overseas military outpost and the Cubans have long demanded its return. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro restored relations in December 2014 and relations have been improving but the U.S. has said returning Guantanamo is not on the table.
The Cuban delegation was led by Gustavo Machín Gómez, deputy director general of the U.S. department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It also included an official with the Cuban coast guard and the country's ambassador to Jamaica.