December 9, 2008 / 1:54 AM / 11 years ago

Caribbean nations urge U.S. to end Cuba embargo

HAVANA (Reuters) - Caribbean countries on Monday urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to end the trade embargo Washington has imposed for more than four decades on Cuba in the latest signal to the incoming administration.

Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer gestures in the opening meeting with Caribbean leaders during the third Cuba-Caricom meeting in Santiago de Cuba, December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

Obama, who takes office on January 20, pledged he would ease restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to the island and sending money there, but says he wants to maintain the embargo to press for changes in the Communist-run country.

The 15-member Caribbean bloc Caricom said in a statement at the end of a summit in Santiago de Cuba that the governments “call for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against the Republic of Cuba.”

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister W. Baldwin Spencer, head of Caricom, said the “transformational change” under way in Washington should relegate the embargo to history.

Cuba’s former leader, Fidel Castro, and his brother, President Raul Castro, have both said recently they are open to dialogue with the United States to end the dispute stretching across the Florida Straits.

Fidel Castro, who took power nearly 50 years ago after an armed revolution, has not been seen in public since undergoing surgery for an illness in July 2006. His brother took over the presidency formally in February.

Obama has not commented on the remarks from the Castro brothers, two Cold War enemies of the United States, who have recently strengthened ties with the European Union, Russia and China. But U.S. businesses recently asked him to lift the sanctions.

The new U.S. president may ease restrictions and increase cooperation with Cuba on issues such as counter-drug and migration operations, but a meeting between Obama and Raul Castro appears unlikely to happen soon, analysts say.

Cuba has been battered by three hurricanes, which flattened crops and caused around $10 billion in damages. Caribbean nations are concerned about the impact of the world financial crisis may have on demand for their vital tourism industries.

Havana has strong ties to the Caribbean. More than 1,000 Cuban doctors work in programs in neighboring countries and more than 2,000 students from the region are studying in Cuba.

“These projects... are not based on the rules of neoliberalism, which today are collapsing like a house of cards,” Raul Castro told Caricom leaders. “They do not chase after comparative advantage or maximum profit, they promote development, justice, equality and well being.”

Editing by Jackie Frank and Bill Trott

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