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Cablegate: Trinidad and Tobago: Government Takes Castro's

VZCZCXRO3826
RR RUEHGR
DE RUEHSP #0088/01 0521433
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211433Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8995
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3750
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0049

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PORT OF SPAIN 000088

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CAR,WHA/CCA AND INR/IAA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL CU TD
SUBJECT: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: GOVERNMENT TAKES CASTRO'S
RESIGNATION IN STRIDE, NO MAJOR CHANGES IN RELATIONS
FORESEEN


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Foreign Ministry noted in an official
February 19 statement that the resignation of Fidel Castro
would not affect the cordial relations between TT and Cuba.
The communique noted Cuban assistance to Trinidad and
"saluted" Castro, but was measured in tone. Speaking on
February 20, PM Manning was a bit more effusive, noting that
Castro "has been a friend to many in the Caribbean, including
myself." Press commentary was mixed. For their parts,
various trade unions praised Castro as a strong leader and an
inspiration. A noted academic observed to us that while the
GOTT viewed some human rights and regional issues concerning
Cuba with concern, it would never speak out against a
long-time friend. Cuban doctors are working in TT, and two
"super-farms" projects with Cuban participation are on the
horizon. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The TT Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the
following communique on February 19 concerning Fidel Castro's
resignation:

Begin text: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noted the
announcement of Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz that due to health
reasons, he will not accept another five-year term as
President and Commander of the Armed Forces. Dr. Castro was
elected as a Member of Parliament at the recent elections.

Since December 1972, Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba have had
diplomatic relations covering cooperation in a wide range of
areas supportive of economic and social development.

Further, over the years, Cuba has provided valuable
assistance to Trinidad and Tobago in many ways, through the
provision of scholarships, manpower support in the medical
services area (mainly doctors and nurses) and technical
assistance in the field of agriculture, particularly in
respect of the establishment of two large-scale commercial
farms to be located at Tucker Valley in Chaguaramas.

The Ministry wishes to recognize and salute the forty-nine
years of Dr. Castro's leadership to the people of the
Republic of Cuba. The change in Cuban leadership will in no
way affect the cordiality or commitment of this Government's
relationship with Cuba, and the strengthening of relations at
the bilateral level. End Text.

3. (U) The office of TT Prime Minister Patrick Manning said
February 19 that Manning was aware of Castro's resignation,
but had no official position to offer. A day later, however,
Manning told the press (at a joint news conference with
visiting Barbados PM David Thompson) that, "President Castro
has been a friend to many in the Caribbean, including myself.
There's hardly a country in the Caribbean who is not in a
position to say they have gone to the Government of Cuba for
assistance of one kind or the next and it did not come."
Manning then recalled his heart valve replacement surgery in
Cuba in 1998 and his 2005 pacemaker implant there. Manning
concluded that he intended to send Castro a letter thanking
the Cuban for his services to the Caribbean.

4. (U) Meanwhile, several Trinbagonian trade union leaders
lauded Castro. David Abdullah, president of the Federation
of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs, called Castro "a
remarkable human being and an outstanding leader who has
provided inspiration to millions the world over in their
struggle for social justice, equity, dignity and peace."
Lyle Townsend, general secretary of the Communication Workers
Union, hailed the Cuban as "an inspiration to all progressive
trade union leaders in the country, and the best Caribbean
leader we have seen for 100 years." Curtis John, president
of the Aviation Communication and Allied Workers Union, said
Castro was a "very strong leader" who "had an open door
policy for trade unions."

5. (U) For its part, press commentary was mixed, with the
perceived good and bad of Cuba being remarked upon. "The
Guardian" slightly skewed its editorial comment to the
positive side (and also focused on commercial opportunities
if Cuba goes capitalist) while "Newsday" took a slightly
negative slant (noting alleged accomplishments on the island,
but concluding that Castro's rule "prevented Cuba from
becoming a modern nation").

6. (SBU) An academic at the University of the West Indies
told us February 20 that the GOTT had maintained a

PORT OF SP 00000088 002 OF 002


traditionally friendly posture toward Cuba. He added that a
number of Cuban doctors contracted by the GOTT provide health
services in remote rural areas, where they are much
appreciated, and that Cuba provided free scholarships for
medical students from the region. In addition, as the MFA
statement acknowledged, Cuba is participating in the
establishment of two large-scale commercial farms to be
located in Chaguaramas. The GOTT hopes the farms, once up
and producing, will help curtail rapid local food price
inflation. The academic noted that the GOTT had occasionally
shown some concern over specific Cuban human rights issues,
but would never act in a condemnatory manner toward Castro or
Cuba.

7. (SBU) Comment: Trinidad and Tobago's relationship with
Cuba is not dissimilar to that of many states in the region.
While not seeing the Castro regime as a model, many Trinis
also see little reason to condemn a Caribbean brother and
have some sympathy for its "struggles" and travails. Manning
most recently visited Cuba in September of 2007, where he met
with Raul Castro, opened a trade facilitation office and
spoke about eventually opening an Embassy there (TT's High
Commissioner to Jamaica is accredited to Cuba and Cuba opened
an Embassy in TT in 1996 -- conveniently co-located with a
private auto parts store). The GOTT also is supportive of
Cuban inclusion in regional bodies and Port of Spain serves
as the home of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) that
includes Cuba. That said, the GOTT also knows which side of
the divide it lives in and, for instance, the Cuban
Ambassador here has not been invited to any of the Summit of
the Americas planning meetings we have attended.

AUSTIN

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