Caribbean heads of state called for the “immediate lifting” of U.S. economic sanctions imposed four decades ago on socialist Cuba, at a 15-nation Caribbean Community summit hosted for the first time in Havana. The U.S.-imposed sanctions are designed to promote “regime change” in an attempt to oust President Fidel Castro after he led the 1959 revolution.

In a statement issued at the end of the Dec. 7-8 meeting, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) backed Cuba’s efforts to join the Cotonou Agreement, a European Union cooperation accord with former colonies in the Africa/Caribbean/Pacific group of countries. Castro announced that Cuba would reapply for membership of the ACP-EU accord. The Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and former African, Caribbean and Pacific colonies, offers development aid and preferential trade terms to them.

“We remain committed in support of Cuba’s desire to accede to the Cotonou Agreement,” said the president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, whose country currently heads Caricom.

Cuba offered to set up a medical training center in one of the Caricom states to help fight AIDS in the Caribbean, which has the world’s second highest HIV infection rate after sub-Saharan Africa.

St. Kitts/Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said the worsening AIDS situation was “alarming” and Cuban medical aid to its neighbors was making a “significant difference.”

Castro said some 1,000 Cuban doctors and health workers were stationed in Caricom-island states, and offered to double the number.

Cuba, the largest Caribbean island, has sought to join Caricom, but has only been admitted as an observer. It may enter soon, though. “The climate is more favorable now,” a Bahamian official said.

Thirteen of Caricom’s heads of state and one vice-president attended the summit in Havana, marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the Caribbean.

Castro said Caribbean nations played a key role in helping Cuba end isolation in the hemisphere, a policy pushed by the United States.

Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago led the way by establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972, despite U.S. opposition.

“This courageous decision adopted by small, newly independent countries in a hostile environment and under great pressures, was a fundamental step in breaking the diplomatic and commercial blockade of Cuba in the region,” Castro said.