Cuba for US: Who’s for us?
Buenos dias, SeÒor Obama! I started this column in Spanish because American President Barack Obama is about to reopen the door to Cuba, and Jamaica had better pay attention. As the United States readies to remove Cuba from the naughty corner, Jamaica could literally get to hold the end of the stick, described appropriately in the name of the Cuban Town, Palo Cagado where many Jamaican descendants live.
America has 'kept malice' with Cuba since the year before Jamaica became independent, and while it might have had some justification initially, the isolationist approach to 'Castroland' is as outdated as the Afro that some of my colleagues wear alongside their pleated trousers. Yet, there is a deep history that helps to make sense of the nonsense.
In 1823, President James Monroe declared that all of the Americas were the United States' 'neighbourhood', and thus any attempt by European nations to consolidate or colonise any new territory in this hemisphere would be seen as an act of aggression against the US and liable to severe and decisive military action.
By the end of the Spanish American War in 1898, the treaty with Spain had given rights to its colonies, Puerto Rico and Cuba, to the Americans. After Uncle Sam gave Cuba its independence in 1902, one proviso was that under the Cuban constitution, the US had the right to intervene in internal Cuban affairs. This included its finances and relations with other sovereign nations. Under the 1901 Platt Amendment, which became incorporated into the Cuban constitution, the US leased the Guantanamo Bay naval base from Cuba for perpetuity.
The US ran Cuba as a sort of Riviera, the Miami to the south, and large interests with copious amounts of investments rested there. Indeed, it even reoccupied the island between 1906 and 1909 and administered it as a colony. It is instructive to note that it was the American government that gave support to Fulgencio Batista, who was democratically elected between 1940 and 1944, but became a dictator from 1952 to his ouster in 1959. Notably, it was the support of the US, which placed an arms embargo on the government, that allowed a young Fidel Castro to finally overthrow Batista.
Batista's sins, including his corruption, maltreatment of the working classes and human-rights violations, had been ignored by the Americans for years, given that he was a pro-capitalist and non-communist tyrant. One of the legacies of post-World War II politics was that in keeping communism at bay, internal violations of Latin American dictators could be overlooked as long as the despot did not violate the hegemony of the US over his country. Support for Batista waned because he had outlived his usefulness to the US.
After the Cuban Revolution that ousted Batista in 1959, there was a year of bliss, but by 1960, Castro had declared his government communist and nationalised hundreds of American businesses, including several multinational corporations, hitting American capitalists deep in their pockets. Hostilities escalated and eventually a severing of diplomatic ties and full-scale embargo was imposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, but only after he himself had secured his last import of Cuban cigars for his stash.
Over the next few decades, there was so much red herring that we could make Solomon Gundy. Allegations of human-rights violations within the island nation flourished, as a major reason for maintaining the embargo, while America continued to have deep relations with other nations with worse records and even genocide reports.
During the Cold War, the post-1944 stand-off between the Soviet bloc and the America-led West that ended in 1989, the pretext for Cuba's pariah status was also its communist doctrine. However, America's relationship with China makes mockery of both bases for Cuba's isolation. Nevertheless, during this period of Cuba's economic quarantine, Jamaica, except for the mid-1970s, enjoyed easy and free access to the American market and, of course, its tourists.
In 1996, the Helms-Burton Act strengthened the embargo to now penalise foreign companies trading with Cuba. Yet, despite all these initiatives, Cuba was as unmoved as a septuagenarian member of parliament, while, ironically, America's own human-rights abuses came to the forefront via its torture reports of prisoners on Cuban soil - Guantanamo Bay.
The logic of the embargo has long been lost on second- and third-generation Cubans in the USA, as most of them don't see the point. Never mind the spy/prisoner swap and other behind-the-scenes activities, Obama had spoken of removing the blockade from as far back as 2009. Furthermore, as Obama declared, the sanctions have not worked. And Cuba, despite the antagonisms from American interests, has outperformed the rest of the Americas in education, health, longevity and a range of development indicators.
This is the downside, because if it has done so well as an economic outcast, imagine what will happen when Obama 'fly di gate'. Our tourism sector will learn to say 'Twep-twep' in Spanish, because Cuba's crime rate is lower, although Jamaica's crime-against-tourist rate is one of the lowest in the world.
The Cuban government has been more vigilant in protecting its environment and has far more land and beach mass. Despite our gross national product (GDP) per capita of US$9,000 being close to the Cuban US$10,200, our debt-to-GDP ratio is 124 per cent, compared to the Cubans' 36 per cent. Jamaica's dollar is coated with petroleum jelly, and has slid to US$1:J$114. Castro's peso is US$1:CUP 1.
And while we wait for the logistics hub, Americans won't have to take a circuitous route like Christopher Columbus. Cuba is just 144 kilometres from the Port of Miami. Kingston Harbour is more than 1,000 kilometres by ship. True, it is doubtful that America will ever retake Cuba as it did in the past, but when it brings home its prodigal, we might not even get a piece of the fatted calf.
n Dr Orville Taylor, the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism, is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and tayloronblackline@