Sat | Apr 29, 2017

Finally

Published:Wednesday | December 17, 2014 | 12:33 PMGary Spaulding
AP photo Students watch a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, on a TV at school in Havana, Cuba, yesterday. Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty, but that the countries have to learn to live with their differences "in a civilized manner".
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It's been long in coming but it has finally happened.

That's how Jamaicans are describing the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States (US) and Cuba, which had been severed more than half a century ago in January 1961.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in a statement from Jamaica House yesterday, said the move brings US and Cuban foreign policies in line with modern international diplomatic arrangements and "vindicates the position taken repeatedly by the majority of nations of the world at the United Nations and in other international fora for an end to the US trade embargo and other attempts to isolate Cuba".

Said the prime minister: "This represents courageous action by the governments of the US and Cuba that will ultimately serve the best interest of the people of both countries and establish the foundation for the next required logical step of a total and formal end of the US's unilateral trade embargo against Cuba."

Edward Seaga, the former political leader who tussled with former Cuban President Fidel Castro at a time when capitalism and communism raged on the political stage, also embraced the announcement.

wake-up call for locals

Outgoing president of the Private Sector Association of Jamaica, Christopher Zacca, described the opening of American borders to Cuba as a wake-up call for the local business sector.

For the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Edmund Bartlett, the easing of the embargo symbolises the fulfilment of a long and hazardous campaign undertaken by the region and sections of the global community.

The local socio-political landscape took on a surreal quality as Jamaicans listened to United States President Barack Obama breaking the foundation of what he characterised as his country's outdated approach to Cuba.

Jamaicans stood, seemingly transfixed, before television screens as they witnessed what a few years ago had looked like the unthinkable - the dawn of a new dispensation on the international front.

In so doing, Obama said he was promoting change that is consistent with US support for the Cuban people and in line with US national security interests.

At the end of the presentation, a tear or two slipped down the cheeks of some Jamaicans and subdued cheers followed.

In a dramatic shift, Obama paved the way for a new relationship, balancing on diplomatic pillars, to be forged between the long-time political foes.

'It has to be'

Minutes after Obama addressed his people in simultaneous harmony with Cuban President Raul Castro, Seaga declared: "It has to be."

Said Seaga: "The Cubans would be thankful for that, they have the right training, right discipline and the right work habit to do well in conjunction with their counterparts in Florida who are people in business."

He added: "These two sets of people, I think, will find it easy to complement each other for their own prosperity."

But Seaga harbours one reservation shared by many other Jamaicans - with the flood gates opening up to Cuba, what will be the fate of local tourism?

Seaga expressed concern that Jamaica's tourism product could be affected as Cuba could become the new lure for curious visitors.

Characterising Obama's announcement as an important development, Zacca predicted that it would have a significant impact once Cuba opens up, given the direction in which it appears to be heading.

"Businesses in Jamaica must see it as both a threat but a big opportunity to target a new market," said Zacca.

"We need to hurry up and transform the economy competitively to what we can take advantage of down the line, as well as ensuring that we can compete with new business that will spring up in Cuba."

Said Bartlett: "I think that it is significant that the timing should be now at the start of what is a new relationship that the world is seeking with itself and the need for the values of globalisation to be realised by all nations.

Bartlett said that, for too long Cuba has been outside the realm of these developments.

"The offshoot of this is the implication with Cuba's own relationship with the rest of the community and the transformation initiative that has been going on in that country," he said.

Bartlett noted that the matter of human rights continues to be a sticking point.

"We are now beginning to witness a new concentrate as the exchange of political prisoners can very well be that signal.

Two years after the Batista regime was deposed by the Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution, the US placed an embargo on exports to Cuba (except for food and medicine), but on February 7, 1962, this was extended to include almost all imports.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com