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EDITORIAL - Beyond the PriceSmart affair

Published:Wednesday | June 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Like Foreign Minister A.J. Nicholson, we welcome the lifting of the ban on membership of Cuban diplomats to the American retail club, PriceSmart. For that restriction perhaps not only breached international conventions governing the treatment of diplomats, but in all likelihood, Jamaican law, when applied in this country.

We wished, however, that this move signalled a more fundamental reassessment of US policy towards Cuba, beginning with a dismantling of the trade embargo that Washington has maintained against Havana for 52 years. Maybe it is an issue that Barack Obama, in the second half of the second term of his presidency, without the need to campaign for re-election, can begin to seriously address.

The proximate matter of the PriceSmart ban spotlighted not only an anachronistic policy, but how the extraterritorial application of American law can be made to rudely impinge on the sovereignty of other countries. That, on the face of it, is what happened in Jamaica, when PriceSmart was pressured into invoking the Torricelli bill that prohibits foreign subsidiaries of US companies from doing business with Cuba and Cuban nationals.

Indeed, neither the Jamaican Constitution nor statute, in the normal course of commerce, allows for discriminatory practices. Nor could PriceSmart rely on the principle of private membership, given its universal welcome of all-comers - except Cuban diplomats. The only criterion for its membership was the applicant's ability to pay the fee.

We hope that when Minister Nicholson shares the information of America's current stance in the PriceSmart issue with his Caribbean Community (CARICOM) colleagues, it won't be posited as a resolution of a matter that no longer requires the attention of the Community's Legal Affairs Committee. For the underlying issues remain: the Torricelli and Helms-Burton bills, and Washington's willingness to deploy them, as this case proved, at whim.

Isolation has failed

In that regard, the matter should also probably attract the attention of CARICOM's council of ministers on foreign affairs and probably the heads of government, who should tell our American partners and friends that it ought to be apparent that their policy of Cuba isolation has failed. If anything, the policy has been counterproductive, doing nothing more than to keep an authoritarian government in place and democracy at bay. It is rational only to a declining handful of anti-Castro Cubans in Miami and a few conservative American politicians relying on their votes.

A constructive engagement of the Cuban regime and an end to the embargo would make sense.

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