Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Cuba policy shift is Obama's legacy move

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Barack Obama ... has engineered a major shift in US policy. - AP
Cuba's President Raul Castro (left) smiles during a twice-annual legislative session at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, last Friday, days after Barack Obama announced a thaw in US-Cuba relations. - AP
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Delano Frankyln,  Guest Columnist

President Barack Obama has taken the historic decision for the United States to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba after they were closed by Washington in 1961 after the Cuban revolution. By this action, President Obama has removed from this region one of the enduring Cold War features.

On December 17, President Obama took the world by surprise when he announced, among other things:

  • The re-establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries;
  • The establishment of an embassy in each country;
  • The ease of travel restrictions for the citizens of either country;
  • The release of the Cuban Five; and
  • The release of two persons who were incarcerated in Cuba to the USA.

President Obama took what can be considered one of the most radical foreign policy decisions to have been taken certainly by him, and by many presidents before him. The decision by Obama to recognise, and formally work with, Cuba officially reverses the US foreign policy which sought to isolate Cuba.

For many years, the vast majority of the world, including Jamaica, consistently expressed their disagreement with this aspect of US foreign policy.

The decision by President Obama to have the US formally recognise Cuba as an independent sovereign state is in keeping with Jamaica's long-held position that Cuba has a right to determine and pursue, like every other country, the ideological and political policies of its choice.

One of the guiding principles that caused Jamaica to establish, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Michael Manley, diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972 was the view that hostility breeds hatred and war, while peace allows for the possibility of peaceful coexistence.

The proactive internationalist policy of Michael Manley that led to friendly relations with Cuba has, over the years, received steadfast support from both P.J. Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller, whose People's National Party has never wavered in its support for the government and people of Cuba.

As President Obama correctly pointed out, the US policy to isolate Cuba is outdated, and after abiding by the very same policy for 53 years without anything positive resulting from it, it is time to do something different.

POINTS OF CONSIDERATION

There are some other points which I would like to raise as a result of the decision by President Obama.

1. It would appear that President Obama, in his last term, is prepared to make some bold decisions. This particular shift to recognise Cuba will not make it any easier for him among those who are increasingly against him. He will have to show the necessary resolve to take this policy through to its very end. He will need congressional approval to have the trade embargo lifted, and many in the US House of Representatives have already signalled that they are not prepared to have President Obama have his way on this matter.

2. This policy was introduced by President Obama without any regime change in Cuba. The fact that the Cuban leadership, and Raul Castro in particular, have agreed to the new approach by the US shows that it is prepared to deal with probable consequences, one of which is a possible increase in the number of Cubans who would wish to travel to, and stay in, the US.

3. This would lead one to ask, why then would Cuba agree to the softening of relations with the USA? Well, Cuba has always asked for it, and the international community has, with very few exceptions, always supported Cuba in its effort to have the USA change its position. Perhaps the most important reason, however, is the challenging economic situation which exists in Cuba. Cuba will benefit from a greater inflow of foreign currency into its economy. It will be interesting to see how Cuba manages this increase in economic relations while managing the inevitable influence of US culture on the Cuban society.

4. President Obama, no doubt, had to wrestle with the fact that, if there is any one policy of the USA that it found itself consistently and persistently isolated on in different international for, it was that of its policy against Cuba. Not that all countries supported the internal policies pursued by Cuba, but they were all united around the policy of ideological pluralism which allows each country the right of existence, as well as the right to determine its own internal system and method of governance.

5. Many countries and people the world over have developed a love and respect for Cuba because of the sacrifice of Cuba and Cubans in giving practical assistance to other developing countries. In Jamaica, the contribution of the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports and affording many students from Jamaica the opportunity to pursue higher education in Cuba are two examples of the selfless nature of Cuba. The most recent action to send hundreds of Cuban doctors to Ebola-hit countries gained the support and admiration of leaders worldwide, including President Obama's.

6. The US has always had to deal with the contradiction in its approach to dealing with Cuba and China. China pursues policies with which the USA has always expressed discomfort, yet the USA, primarily because of economic reasons, opened diplomatic relations with China more than 40 years ago.

China is the second largest economy in the world. China has investments worldwide, including in the USA. From an economic perspective, the USA cannot afford to isolate China. The USA, over time, found it increasingly difficult to explain its attitude towards Cuba while deepening its relationship with China.

7. I am sure that President Obama had to take stock of the response of members of the Cuban diaspora to his decision to reopen relations with Cuba. The vast majority of Cubans who live in the USA were born after the severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. Also, Florida, where a significant number of these Cubans live, seems to vote traditionally for the Republican Party, who they believe to be far more hard-line in its attitude to Cuba than the Democrats. With these two issues in mind, President Obama would possibly have calculated that he may not have much to lose politically in Florida.

8. The final point I wish to make is that the increased relations between the USA and Cuba will have a direct impact on Caribbean economies, including and especially Jamaica, particularly in the area of tourism. The mystique of Cuba, certainly in the short run, will be an attraction for many tourists. Second, Cuba is literally crime free. This will be another pull factor. I am sure the Jamaican Government is aware of this reality.

President Obama, in his second and final term, seems determined to leave a lasting legacy.

Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law and adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and delanofranklyn@gmail.com.