Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Brian-Paul Welsh | Cuba shall rise

Published:Monday | August 15, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh
Cuban and US flags hang on the windshield of a Fiat Polski 126p in a garage in Havana, Cuba.
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The reopening of tours from the United States to Cuba marks the initiation of a potential boon for Cuba's proud but relatively meagre economy, and the cooling of a grudge between nations with histories far nobler than such a protracted malice would indicate.

Despite decades of acrimony, spite and subterfuge, we can finally see signs that both nations are interested in regenerating aspects of their formerly close relationship, so they might dance the economic salsa again.

For the past 50 years, Cuba has stood firm but frozen in time, a relic of a bygone era in Caribbean romance. The tall buildings, elegant corridors, and stunning vistas of Old Havana harken to a time when Cuba's political machinery presided over a powerful social and economic infrastructure. Since the Cuban people realised their revolutionary intentions, the dream of prosperity has eluded them, hidden behind a firewall called embargo. Though they lost some muscle during the ensuing period of fiscal starvation, the framework on which their society was to be built remained strong, fortified by the sheer will and determination of the people.

Cuba's insulation has largely protected her from some of the most destructive aspects of the new world order, meaning its beneficiaries: obnoxious voyeurs possessed with the spirits of entitlement, avarice, and rum; we call them 'tourists'.

The necessary evil of tourism, as we have come to know it, can be found in the cash visitors dispose of while on their tropical trysts. This foreign exchange goes far in the developing economies of the Third World, and countries like ours have made a national industry of inviting pleasure seekers to sip from a coconut while gallivanting in a conga line along the beach.

That Cuba has survived after decades of unjustified austerity is amazing, especially in light of the rapid and similarly unjustified disintegration of Venezuela. Her survival and the robustness of her national spirit are testament to the vision and discipline of those called to lead, as well as the will of a people invested in these revolutionary ideas. She has now awakened in a new world and finds herself poised to exercise options that weren't always available.

 

FACILITATION BY OLD RIVAL

 

JetBlue's recent announcement of a US$99 fare special from the US to Havana is as historic a political moment for me, as was news of the installation of the first gumball machine in Cuba at a time when Jamaicans were already accustomed to cellular phones and cable television. Buzz about these new developments is indicative of Cuba's unrelenting march into modernity, but for the more discerning, there is much to be gleaned as these contemporary examples demonstrate that Cuba never lost her financial viability even while enduring debilitating pressures.

Cuba is now slowly emerging to capitalise on the success of its revolution, and stranger still, with some facilitation by its old rival. Yes, Uncle Sam and Lady Havana are now on speaking terms, and Jamaica has every reason to pay keen attention.

This ominous cloud has loomed for the better part of the last two decades, and in light of rapid new developments, we must assess our preparedness for Cuba's rediscovery.

Anyone with an understanding of the geography and scale of Cuba can immediately recognise how emblematic that land is of the Caribbean itself. Every island in the Antilles could possibly fit inside the Cuban land mass and, likewise, almost every popular tourist attraction in the Caribbean can either be found or replicated inside Cuba. Every beach, every waterfall, every mountain, every palm tree, every cool breeze, every pretty girl or handsome man that represents the Caribbean in our imagination can be found there, but on a much grander scale.

Cuba maintained a highly educated and skilled workforce, low crime, and relative social stability in a time of global volatility. The industrial proficiency of her people is legendary, having attained a cultural discipline that puts us to shame. The possibilities for growing sustainable enterprises are, therefore, endless in such a fertile and enabling environment.

In the decades that Cuba has slept, Jamaica has experienced crushing fiscal pressures, a political war, and the degeneration of civic pride. We have flirted with economic growth but never really put in the work necessary to maintain it, all while the environment became more hostile to investment.

This new influx of capitalist interest in a place with such enormous potential will serve to revive Cuba's revolutionary ascent, and if we are not careful, we will once again be left behind, hindered by our own baggage.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.