Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Reset button on Cuba

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM

IN 1959, the then ongoing revolution in the neighbouring country of Cuba was to reap success. Fidel Castro led a band of mercenaries out of the Sierra Maestra mountains to overthrow the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, who had seized power by way of a coup in 1952. From the first-person account as relayed by close relatives who were in Cuba at the time, Fidel Castro and his men were greeted as heroes, a fact that has featured prominently in the past 50 years since the revolution.

Batista was reported as being a strict enforcer of the class divisions in the society. The old adage was most often adopted: 'If you are white, you are all right; brown, stick around; black, turn back.' When this is superimposed on a society that is predominantly black, any revolution that sought to change their status quo would be welcome.

Batista would allow for the most unsavoury elements in the Americas to exploit Cuba - another fact that was to be woven in the anti-Castro community honed in South Florida. They were the ones providing a haven for the Mafia in Cuba, controlling the bribery and corruption associated with the prostitution and decadence of what passed for the Cuban tourist industry. They owned the sugar plantations and the cigar industry, so it was, therefore, understandable that they would become targets of the Castro-led revolution.

The irony was that, I am told, at the overthrow of Batista, they welcomed Fidel from the mountains. He was 'Cuban' white. One of them, or so they thought. However, within a short period, they were to realise that Fidel Castro led a people's revolution. Health care, education, elimination of accepted prostitution, expulsion of the American Mafia, and the nationalisation of the sugar estates were priorities. Black people became 'full free' in their own lands. This was, and from all accounts, continues, to be the new order in Cuba.

Let us now take a look at the anti-Castro spokesperson in Miami. Contrast them with those who were allowed to leave the prison and mental institutions and go on the excursion referred to as the Mariel boatlift. The obvious differences are stark. Black baseball players defect to achieve economic rewards for their personal skills. The mass of the Cuban people are not risking life to defect to America, hence the tension.

The quandary of today is that the structure of America has now abandoned the championing of the cause of their kith and kin. This has to be traumatic for the community in Miami. However, opposition to the overtures made by Barack Obama have been low-key so far. A new generation of Cuban-Americans have grown up without much interaction with Cuba in the last five decades. The old country ties fade. The rest of the world trades, supports and interacts with Cuba. Only America persisted with a failed policy of isolation.

The US passed the Helms-Burton Act that was intended to punish those who dared to ignore the American diktat. It has been implemented here in Jamaica with the US-based company PriceSmart and the members of the Cuban diplomatic delegation to Jamaica. That proved to be short-lived in its application. This is the approach they applied.

One must also acknowledge the political realities of the Florida Republican Party. They derive very strong support from the Cuban exile community. This is changing; the old guard are off the scene. The new generation has grown up in America as born Americans and have been influenced by the daily realities of life in America.

Some have gravitated to the Democratic Party. Some even voted for Barack Obama. A new day, and with it came the opportunity for this initiative. The fact that there was a greater good to be had from the negotiated release of the American prisoner, Alex Gross, is the correct opportunity for Barack Obama to generate a legacy. He seeks to join Richard Nixon in China with the gains to be had from changing international relations, specifically the South America reception of America. Although part of the Caribbean, geographically, language and shared heritage make Cuba more identified as Latin America.

The unilateral approach was becoming stale. Like-minded democrats such as Canada openly traded with Cuba. The majority of the tourists in Cuba hail from Europe. The only international fora from which Cuba was excluded were those dominated by USA, not the world. One country with a bruised ego, failed policy and a vocal group at home to be acknowledged.

What does all this mean for Jamaica, which is only 90 miles from Cuba? The first thing is to acknowledge that we have thousands of Jamaicans who can claim Jamaican citizenship living in Cuba. They are the descendants of those who saw Cuba as a natural point of migration many decades ago. Rita Marley, widow of the legendary Bob Marley, was born in Cuba. Our ties are strong and deep. That is the strength. The weakness is language. We do not easily converse because very few of us speak Spanish, or even standard English.

The opportunities are to be found in the 11-million-person consumer market 90 miles away. Not 1,000 miles like Trinidad. The initial allure of a 'new' market is going to be challenging. Be prepared.

n Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.