THE CARIBBEAN WITHOUT CUBA? IMPOSSIBLE, STATESMAN SAYS

THE CARIBBEAN WITHOUT CUBA? IMPOSSIBLE, STATESMAN SAYS

A prominent Caribbean statesman said this week that regional efforts to forge a more united Caribbean community must include Cuba.

''We cannot dream of the Caribbean without recognizing how central Cuba is to that Caribbean. There is no Caribbean without Cuba," Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana, chairman of the West Indies Commission, told a news conference in Havana.Sir Shridath, former secretary-general of the British Commonwealth, was visiting Cuba with other commission members under a mandate from the English- speaking Caribbean Community (Caricom) to explore prospects for closer ties between all nations in the Caribbean.

"We are reaching towards the concept of a community of the entire Caribbean," he said.

He added this was a response to moves in several parts of the world to create areas of economic cooperation, such as the European Community's single market and negotiations to bring Mexico into the U.S.-Canadian free trade agreement.

"We feel very strongly that it will be absolutely essential for our survival that we should pool our small strength so that it can be a little more significant," Sir Shridath said.

He added he and the commission members had been very encouraged by the meeting they had Monday with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

"We have a sense that in Cuba's vision of the world, the Caribbean and Latin America are its natural home," Sir Shridath said.

Communist-ruled Cuba has been seeking to strengthen political and trade ties with Latin America and the Caribbean following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, its main ally and economic supplier for three decades.

Sir Shridath said his commission had not brought with it a "shopping list" of possible trade opportunities between Cuba and CARICOM members. But he said tourism was clearly one area where cooperation was possible.

He also praised what he said were significant Cuban advances in bio- technology and genetic engineering.

Sir Shridath added he did not believe a 30-year-old U.S. Trade embargo against Cuba would hinder the process of integrating the island into the Caribbean region. "Obviously, we would all wish to see that embargo lifted," he said.

Sir Shridath said the ongoing dispute between Cuba and the United States was "a matter of sorrow for the entire hemisphere."

The commission ended its visit to Cuba on Wednesday.