By BEN FOX Associated Press Writer
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Looking for foreign aid after his election, Haitian President Rene Preval stopped in Havana. When Trinidad's prime minister needed heart surgery, he twice turned to Cuban doctors. And when the U.N. held its annual vote to denounce the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, the Caribbean Community trade bloc gave its unanimous support.
In sharp contrast to the bitter U.S.-Cuba divide, relations between the Cuban government and the rest of its neighbors have never been warmer _ a situation highlighted by reactions to the surgery that required Fidel Castro to relinquish power temporarily.
Caribbean leaders, even from nations that had Cold War differences with Cuba, sent get-well-soon messages to Castro, while the U.S. government offered encouragement to the ailing leader's opponents and Cuban exiles danced in the streets of Miami.
"We pray for President Castro and we wish him God's blessings," said Prime Minister Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia.
The friendly relations stem in part from small-state admiration for Castro's defiance of the United States, which also has strong ties throughout the region. But there's also gratitude for Cuban assistance, in medical care and education, to Caribbean nations despite the communist government's financial struggles.
"Cuba has been a long-standing friend to the entire Caribbean," said Barry Collymore, spokesman for Grenadan Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.