United States President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro stunned the world with the revelation that after 18 months of “secret” talks between Washington DC, the United States’ political capital, and Havana, where most of Cuba’s decisions are made, both countries were moving to, among other things, re-establish diplomatic ties that weakened drastically in January 1959, and were severed eventually in January 1961.
As part of the new dispensation, both countries agreed to a prisoner swap.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in a statement, hailed the move by Obama and Castro for their “bold and visionary leadership”, adding that both were deserving of commendation, following the news released simultaneously in both capital cities.
“This represents courageous action by the Governments of the United States and Cuba that will ultimately serve the best interest of the people of both countries and establish the foundation for the next required logical step of a total and formal end of the United States’ unilateral trade embargo against Cuba,” Simpson Miller stated, emphasising that the act now brings US and Cuban foreign policies in line with what she described as modern international diplomatic arrangements.
She also noted that the position vindicates the stance taken annually by countries of the United Nations, which, barring consistent votes against it by a handful of countries including the US and Israel, called for an end to the over-aged blockade that had severely set back growth in the north Caribbean island of close to 11.4 million inhabitants.
“The normalisation of the relationship between these two countries of the Americas is a victory for all the peoples of the Americas. It is also a vindication of the principled position of Jamaica, the Members of the Caribbean Community and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, as well as people across the globe who for decades have called for dialogue and mutual respect between the two countries, and for an end to the unilateral sanctions imposed against Cuba by the USA,” Simpson Miller went on.
Expressing an even greater level of delight was Cuba’s Ambassador to Jamaica Bernardo Guanche Hernandez, who told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the move marked a historic moment in the lives of citizens of both countries.
“We are glad, we are happy with this information … this news,” he said.
“We are neighbours and we need to have good relations. We are very happy with the freedom of the five Cubans and now let us hope that we can all work together to have a better region and a better world,” Ambassador Guanche Hernandez said, referring to the five Cuban prisoners, three of whom were freed yesterday, adding to the two who had earlier gained their release.
Jamaica’s opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade Edmund Bartlett expressed delight at the latest developments, describing the resumption of diplomatic relations between the countries as “an epochal moment in Caribbean political history and diplomatic relations”.
“We are truly delighted as on both sides of the governmental aisle we have been united on the principle of the removal of the embargo which has been seen as unfair and unjust. We also take particular note of (President) Obama’s description of the shift, as the ‘most significant change in our policy in more than 50 years’.”
Bartlett also noted that there could be openings for important talks to occur between Jamaica, the United States and Cuba, to deal with trade and tourism opportunities.
“Given that the USA is our largest trade partner and Cuba is our closest neighbouring state, there will clearly be new opportunities for discussions on trade and also deeper economic collaboration between Jamaica, Cuba and the USA. We look forward for discussions on this co-operation, particularly in the areas of tourism and the development of our logistics hub capabilities, and we encourage continued steps towards the full removal of the trade embargo which will certainly unlock the gates to free trade among the Americas,” said Bartlett, who is the Member of Parliament for East Central St James.
President of the Jamaica Cuba Friendship Association Dr Lorenzo Gordon, a medical practitioner who studied in Cuba, was ecstatic.
“That’s fantastic news,” said Dr Gordon, an internist who, among other duties, works at the Kingston Public Hospital.
“This will help Cuba to forge ahead, as with the embargo broken it will allow Cuba to afford to get goods and services at a cheaper price. This is one of Obama’s legacies, as a man who believes in peace,” Dr Gordon said.
Consultant surgeon Dr Neville “Jigs” Graham, who also studied in Cuba, echoed similar sentiments.
“This is the best news in 50 years. The world is going to change even more than the Berlin Wall. The relationship will help the United States even more than Cuba because Cuba learnt how to live with the US, and the US had not been successful in isolating Cuba. “We in Jamaica must brace for that new relationship with new opportunities for tourism, commerce, technology and health care,” Dr Graham said.
Cuba, which up to the end of the 1950s was led by a right wing regime that had Fulgencio Batista as its last leader, has since been taken along a Socialist path by Fidel Castro Ruz, whose brother, Raul, is now the president.
Fidel retired as Cuban president in 2008, on medical grounds at age 82, following several failed attempts by the United States to topple him from power, and since then his younger brother Raul, now 83, has preached a milder political gospel that has won him many admirers on the global atlas.
Raul’s free market reforms, relaxing of ancient laws that political analysts said squeezed production and progress, and injections of capitalist-style doses of medicines all helped to prop up the economy that was for decades largely kept oiled by the ingenuity of the Cuban people.
Cuba’s prowess in medicine and medical care, despite limited or no support from the US, hurdled that island to the finish line ahead of several countries in the race to keep the world healthy.
Other local organisations hailing the historic move yesterday include the ruling People’s National Party and the young professional arm of the Jamaica Labour Party, Generation 2000 (G2K).