BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Leaders of Caribbean nations were holding a summit Thursday to discuss health care cooperation and cultural exchanges, but a major focus was on Cuba and its thorny relationship with the United States.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro was expected to visit a memorial to 73 people who died in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight, allegedly masterminded by a former CIA operative whom the United States has refused to extradite for trial in the case.
A draft declaration prepared for the one-day summit also calls for an end to Washington's "unjust and cruel" 44-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.
"It is an embargo that is not only inhumane but also blatantly inconsistent with international trade laws," said St. Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony at the opening of the second Caribbean Community-Cuba summit.
Castro chided wealthy nations for using a disproportionate share of the world's energy resources, saying they were growing richer at the expense of poorer countries, and endangering the environment.
"The unbridled race to waste the natural resources of the planet will bring life to an end on Earth, but our small island states will be the first to perish," Castro said.
Leaders of every Caricom nation except Haiti attended the summit, designed to encourage cultural exchanges and health care cooperation between the 15-nation bloc and Cuba.
Cuba has teamed up with Venezuela in recent months to offer free eye surgery to impoverished people with sight-threatening ailments from across Latin America and the Caribbean. Hundreds of young people from the region study for free at Cuba's School of Latin American Medicine, where they train to become doctors.
Following a closed-door meeting with Caricom leaders, Castro was to lay a wreath at a memorial to those killed on the Cubana Airlines flight from Barbados on a flight to Havana. The plot was purportedly hatched in Caracas, where the flight originated, by Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban native and naturalized Venezuelan.
"This most horrific act of terrorism remains forever etched in our minds," Anthony told delegates at the Hilton Hotel. "We owe it to the families of those who died to remember them, in pain, in sorrow and in martyrdom."
Posada Carriles escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 before a civilian trial on the airline bombing was completed. He later ran weapons from El Salvador to Nicaraguan Contra rebels, as part of the White House Iran-Contra operation.
Posada Carriles was arrested in Florida last May on charges of entering the United States illegally and is jailed in Texas. A judge ruled that he couldn't be deported to Venezuela because of the possibility he could face torture.