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Editorial: Take note of Obama’s Cuba visit

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2016 | 2:00 AM

Fourteen months ago when President Barack Obama announced his intention to normalise America's relations with Cuba, we urged Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) not only to pay attention, but to begin serious thinking about how they can leverage their more than decade-old trade agreement with Havana.

We have raised the matter periodically since then, including during last summer's buzz over Washington's formal reopening of its embassy in Havana, presided over by Mr Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry. Now, Mr Obama has announced that he will himself visit Cuba in a month's time, adding impetus to the process of normalisation.

The Cubans have obviously met Mr Obama's condition for a visit to the island: that he is free to meet whoever he wishes, including human-rights activists and others who oppose Cuba's communist government.

We support the visit of the United States (US) president and Mr Obama's efforts at normal relations even as we oppose communism and look forward to Cuba's transition to democracy. The fact is, as Mr Obama has pointed out, America's policy for more than half a century of attempting to isolate Cuba has abjectly failed at its stated intent - the removal of the Communist Party and the overthrow of the Castros - first Fidel and then his brother, Ra?l.

If anything, the attempt at isolation and the economic embargo that the US has maintained against Cuba worked in favour of the Cuban government. The blockade was a ready-made peg on which to hang every policy failure. In the event, the most enduring victims of this embargo have been the Cuban people, who have been cut off from the world's largest and most innovative market.

 

INTERNALLY INCONSISTENT

 

Moreover, this embargo is not only morally wrong, but, as foreign policy, is internally inconsistent. The United States has diplomatic relations and huge bilateral trade with, and major investments in, communist-ruled China. It has similarly normalised diplomatic trade and investment relations with Vietnam, with whose communist leaders it waged a bitter and bloody war.

Our sense is that despite the failure of the declared opposition of the Republic Party-controlled Congress to repeal legislation underlying the embargo and the contrived implacability of some Cuban American politicians to the Havana government, Mr Obama's process of normalisation is irreversible. The United States and Cuba will soon sign a commercial air-transport agreement, which will increase travel between the countries by people not subject to current restrictions. Several American states and their firms are already jostling for business in the areas allowed. Others are preparing the path for a wider opening. All will resent any attempt to reclose these doors to commerce and the potential for profit.

Which brings us back to Jamaica and CARICOM and their place in Cuba. This region doesn't have the capital for head-to-head competition with the Americans in investing in Cuba. But we believe that there are areas of opportunity, some of which might be leveraged via partnerships among firms in CARICOM, or between them and Cuban entities. The bilateral trade agreement gives the region an inside track that encompasses other areas of economic cooperation.

It doesn't appear, however, that CARICOM is particularly exercised with such matters.