HAVANA, 11 Feb. Step by step, Turkey is showing its strong interest in the Caribbean region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Havana Tuesday for the beginning of an official visit to Cuba.
The trip is slated to include meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. Erdogan’s trip is part of a wider regional tour that includes stops in C’olombia and Mexico.
He is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Mehdi Eker, Minister of Culture and tourism Ömer Çelik and Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi. It’s the first visit to the region by a sitting Turkish president since 1995, according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But it’s by no means Turkey’s first foray into the region; indeed, the country has been steadily growing its influence across the wider Caribbean in recent years. Last year, the country expanded its partnership with the Caribbean, with moves including a $2.1 million grant to the government of Antigua and Barbuda, a series of cooperation agreements with the Dominican Republic and, on the smaller side, the donation of laptops to Dominica’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Taken together, these kinds of moves seem to signal a strategy similar to that employed by China in recent years in the region. In July 2014, the country also announced what it called a “clear and long-term engagement” to strengthen its Caribbean ties.
That included a proposal to establish a joint chancery for the common use of CARICOM members to establish diplomatic representation in the country’s capital, Ankara.
Erdogan made headlines late last year when he said that Muslims were the first to reach America from the Eastern Hemisphere, referring to a passage in one of Columbus’ journals that referred to a “little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque.” The passage was used metaphorically by Columbus.
He said Muslim sailors had reached the New World in 1178.