That is a major development, with implications for hemispheric affairs and very significantly for Caribbean countries and territories. And we would be wise to pay close attention and to be guided accordingly.
Let us remind ourselves that prior to the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, that 44,000 square mile island was perhaps the leading tourist destination and playground for Americans. The cultural bonds between the two were as strong as the physical distance between them (just 90 miles) was close.
But Cuba was very corrupt prior to the Revolution, with its leader, Fulgencio Batista, being the tool of the American Mafia. That corruption, to a large extent, helped to foment disaffection among the masses of Cuba, and, in the process, to fuel the Revolution, and ensure its success.
And a number of events occurred subsequently (I won’t get into them here) that served to drive a wedge between the two countries, reinforced by Cuba’s new friendship with the then Soviet Union, which was only too happy to help out and buy influence in a country which was so close to the US mainland.
The US placed an embargo on Cuba, and with more than enough blame to share, hostility and bitterness increased over the decades between the two countries. And this deterioration of relations opened the door for the Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and other territories and countries in the Caribbean region to expand their tourism industries and their economies.
But as the Soviet Union began to crumble, and although the scaled down version of it (Russia) continued to be Cuba’s ally, evolving international, regional and local political and economic circumstances reduced the importance of the relationship over the years between Russia and Cuba.
In the embargo situation, both the US and Cuba suffered. It hampered the potential of the Cuban economy, it kept Cuba looking for a ‘big sister’ to help her out, and it restricted American goods and services, and perhaps influence, from reaching a nearby and, if you will, natural market.
It also caused expenses to be incurred by both countries which could have been avoided were there better relations between the two.
So its net effect was negative. And the US knew it. But there was so much bitterness towards the Castro regime among first and even second generation Cuban Americans that no US President would have wanted to risk losses in the very significant political arena of South Florida, where there is a heavy Cuban vote.
But everything has its time, and the current US President, Barak Obama, came along at the time when third generation Cuban Americans, who now outnumber their older kinfolk, believe that fences need to be mended and the restrictions eased. They believe that the 50-year old embargo has not had the desired effect, and they want things to open up. They believe that that is the smarter and better option, which, incidentally, nearly 60% of Americans agree with.
But this has not been a one-sided process. Cuba has also had more than enough reason to want to normalize relations with the US.
First, Russia’s contribution dwindled. So Cuba looked towards countries such as Libya and Venezuela, which were both willing and able helpers. And for a while it worked for Cuba.
But you know what happened to Ghaddafi and Chavez, and, perhaps more importantly, the price of oil on the world market started on a free fall about a year ago (which was about the time that the US and Cuba began talking in earnest about their relationship), down from nearly US$120 a barrel to US$55 a barrel today, Thursday, December 18, 2014. And as the price fell, oil producing countries began to feel the pain. One of them, Venezuela, already beset by increasing internal problems, lost its capacity to be as generous to Cuba as it had been in the past.
Bear in mind the Petro Caribe arrangement and the implications for us.
To their credit, the leaders of Cuba saw the writing on the wall, and perhaps, like Washington, DC., decided that it was time to take a big step towards normalization. And this not only suited the US, but was also politically timely for President Obama.
So they are now doing their thing.
The rest of the Caribbean has always been apprehensive, and in some cases, downright afraid, of the day when Cuba opens up. Its proximity to the US, its long standing cultural links, its lower operational costs, etc., can cause its economy to boom over the next 10-20 years, reinvigorated by lots of eager US private capital and a nascent Cuban private sector finding an increasingly free market in which to operate, and bolstered by better relations with Washington. Of course, Cuba will need to soften its position on certain things and to take steps towards greater democratization.
But that is inevitable and we are seeing significant history being made before our very eyes. And yet another example of economic reality influencing governmental policy and the direction of nations and regions.
And we are in the middle of it, as it offers both challenges and opportunities to the rest of us in the Caribbean region . We now have to step up to the plate and become more efficient , productive, competitive ,proactive and more mature. And we don’t have much time.
Antigua & Barbuda are out of the gates already. They don’t want their Citizenship by Investment Program to be tainted so they just announced a list of six countries( Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and North Korea) whose citizens, unless they are legally resident in North America or Europe, will not be eligible for Antigua and Barbuda citizenship.
But this move by our neighbour to the East is more than about preserving and growing its Citizenship by Investment Program. Its leaders have been watching the geopolitical developments and the price of oil and other economic factors, with a view to protecting and enhancing their national interest.
And they know that, above and beyond their Citizenship by Investment Program, they do not want or need to offend the US, Canada or any European Union country, or, for that matter, any other friendly governments.
They know, all too well, that tiny countries such as ours, can ill-afford to offend anyone. We have to handle our diplomatic and international affairs with even more tact, finesse and panache than the bigger, more powerful countries.
While they may have oil, diamonds and thousands, and even millions of square miles of real estate and people, all that we, pretty much, can bring to the table is our brain power. And offensive, insulting, careless, and totally unnecessary remarks by our leaders is not my idea of using our brain power.
The Antigua & Barbuda Government see the US-Cuba relationship on the mend, and they are preparing themselves not to come out losers as a result of it.
They are being tactful and tactical. And they are to be commended for it.
You will never hear Prime Minister Gaston Browne make the comments about the US and elsewhere that Denzil Douglas has been making. While Browne is pushing his country forward, Douglas is putting the interests of Kittitians and Nevisians at further risk, after all that he has already done to hurt us.
A word to the wise.