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Patria-Kaye Aarons | One world

Published:Tuesday | June 28, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Last week at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I sat in a hall in Silicon Valley, USA, with 300 investors and 700 entrepreneurs from nearly every country imaginable.

I was but six rows away from the most powerful man on the planet. The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was right there talking to me, looking at me, and I know for all the entrepreneurs that were in the room, whether you were six rows away or 600 rows away, you recognised how special the moment was.

Halfway through his speech, President Obama announced that for the first time since the summit started back in 2010, entrepreneurs from Cuba were allowed to join. He pointed out that getting them there took much negotiation and effort, but after it all, 11 of them were in the audience, where they belonged, with their counterparts from around the world.

His announcement was welcomed by an eruption of applause from all 1,000-plus persons in the hall. And as the 11 Cubans stood up, proudly waving their national flag, I wept ... openly.

Folks, Cuba is our neighbour. They are right there, 90 miles away. Cuba is closer to Jamaica than Negril is to St Thomas. And I was moved to tears to see this symbol of their reintroduction to the community of the world.

The Cuban embargo was imposed in 1960, long before any of the Cuban entrepreneurs in attendance were even born, before some of their parents were born. And yet, through no fault of their own, born innocent, they have had to suffer. The world has stood by and allowed them to suffer.

It moved me so much because I had only a couple years ago gone to Cuba and had seen first-hand the trials the people were forced to endure because they were cut off from the rest of the world. The poverty I saw was real and unnecessary, and my heart bled.

 

COUNTRIES NEED EACH OTHER

 

That Cuba experience was a lesson to me that countries need each other; people need each other. It was impossible for Cuba to produce all it required to function and yet it was forbidden to reach out for the things it couldn't make. Neighbours like Jamaica were fearful of giving Cuba real aid because we didn't want to upset those who help us. And so Cuba did without; without things and without people. And Cubans (with all the pride they could muster) suffered for it and through it.

'Scaling' and 'partnerships' were buzzwords at the summit. Persons were focused on taking their business from their small corners to the rest of the world. Our issues and needs were all too similar and people were busy identifying synergies and ways entrepreneurs from different ends of the globe could work together.

So when I see Britain take the decision to exit the European Union (EU), I am befuddled. You amass your wealth on the backs of the rest of the world and then you vote to isolate yourself from it. Ain't that something. The emotional argument for a Brexit surrounded a resistance to immigration and the free movement of labour among EU countries. What a familiar conversation.

It is my belief that those who similarly call for a CARICOM exit by Jamaica attack togetherness. Absolutely, there are issues that need working out, but the challenges are fixable if we are willing to try.

At the summit, Trinidad and Jamaica were one. We ate together, looked out for each other, and celebrated each other's victories. We cheered on Cuba together with Haiti and Barbados and Belize because we were One Caribbean.

Brexit was a selfish retrograde step if ever I did see one. At a time when everyone else in the world wants to come together and work together for the benefit of all, they want to pull away. Our hateful, divided past is being mended by commerce and education and sensitivity, and the rest of us want to be together.

Oh, except Donald Trump. He wants to build a wall.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.