Will Cuba’s opening up close Jamaica down?
On April 11, presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, marking the first meeting between a US and Cuban head of state since the two countries severed their ties in 1961. The restoration of diplomatic relations after four decades is welcome, as the Cuban people have suffered enough at the hands of Castro and his regime of communism.
The People's National Party (PNP) administration has been cheering the restoration of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States with good reason. After Michael Manley walked hand in hand with Fidel Castro to the mountaintop (of debt it would seem), Jamaica's economy suffered a whopping decline of 22 per cent and the Jamaica Labour Party saved Jamaica from further economic decline. Michael Manley and his party, unfortunately, returned to power in 1989 and the PNP have dropped the overt socialism dogma with a few exceptions - like Dr Omar Davies declaring in the 2000s that his party has always been a democratic socialist party.
The long history of the PNP and Cuba has been legendary. The recent love fest between the PNP and the IMF is quite new, and the dark days of 'ta-ta IMF' by the same PNP administration and horrendous expensive debt racked up over the period 1990s to 2007 has, at least for the moment, been one for the history pages.
But as much as the recent developments between the US and Cuba are welcome, the repercussions for us in Jamaica economically are not good.
Cuba could be the new Caribbean superpower in a mere decade
The US trade embargo, which requires congressional approval to be rescinded, is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon. It has been my considered view that for Jamaica to really improve economically, we need to fix three major statistics, in this order: (1) crime, (2) energy cost, and (3) labour productivity.
In Cuba, they have negligible crime, low energy cost compared to Jamaica, and a more productive workforce. And this, folks, is despite a US trade embargo for more than four decades.
Let us look at some key statistics between Cuba and Jamaica today.
In every statistical category selected, the Cubans are faring far better than we are. Jamaica has had a four decades-plus head start in trading with the United States of America, yet we have a pathetic economy to show for it. The missing decades of 1990 to 2007 would put any self-respecting nation to shame, yet the PNP is back at the helm of the economy, having wrecked it between 1972 and 1980, 1989 and 2007, and once more from 2011.
I put it to the Jamaican people that the trade embargo between Cuba and the United States will be ended in another decade. What is our government doing to improve our economy so that our children will be better off than we were and better off than our neighbours, who are all competing for the same investment dollar.
From what I can see, it is to beg and borrow, pray for 'divine intervention' and cajole the public-sector workers, who have become a major arm of support for the PNP, to agree to poverty wages in the socialist philosophy of sharing the depleting local resources to them from a dying manufacturing sector.
For Jamaica to remain afloat before Cuba's economy really opens up and sinks the Jamaican economy, it needs to get a firm handle on crime. Everyone seems to understand this, but no one is really taking the steps to eliminate criminal gangs and criminal cops.
For Jamaica to remain afloat, it needs to get serious about energy diversification. We need a local-foreign partnership on liquefied natural gas technology and a new plant to produce another 360 megawatts immediately.
Jamaica desperately needs a real shot in the arm with new technologies and mega-industrialisation, and the logistics hub needs to be built now.
But what Jamaica really needs to get its economy humming is visionary, business-friendly leaders and the courage to enforce the rule of law so all Jamaicans have a far chance in moving from poverty to prosperity.