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Is Cuba embargo end near?

GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, November 28 2012

RE-ELECTED PRESIDENT of the United States, Barack Obama, should initiate steps for the lifting of the US trade and travel embargo on Cuba, which (the embargo) was imposed by an earlier Democratic Administration headed by John F Kennedy, following on the 1962 missile crisis.

Today’s reality, what with the decades old collapse of the Soviet Union and the inescapable truth that Cuba ceased to pose a threat to the well being of the United States, almost immediately after the end of the missile crisis, makes continuing the embargo valueless. Even Cuba’s once vocal rejection of the dominance of the United States in the political, economic and social affairs of Latin America has long since been muted.

Although Cuba is not a member of the Caribbean Community of Nations (Caricom) there should have been ongoing diplomatic steps taken by Caricom for the lifting of the embargo from as early as the 1970s, if only because of the significant links between Caricom and Cuba. Cuba has long moved in the direction of closer economic ties with Caricom.

Indeed, one of the most important of the links came with the signing of a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and the Caribbean Community of Nations at the Caricom Summit Meeting in July of 1999.

The historic Cooperation Agreement has better positioned Caricom Member States, particularly Trinidad and Tobago, to take advantage of Cuba’s multi-billion dollar import market. In addition, some four years earlier in August of 1995, Fidel Castro, who was then President of Cuba, had stressed at an Association of Caribbean States’ Heads of Government Meeting that Cuba regarded itself as a Caribbean nation.

Any lifting of the US embargo should see a marked growth in tourism, with American tourists, who today visit Cuba without across the board approval of the US Government, being able to spend vacations there in even much greater numbers than an earlier generation had done prior to the start of Castro’s accessing leadership of the Caribbean’s largest island State.

Today, Cuba’s principal sources of visitor traffic have been Latin America, the Caribbean Basin and Canada.

At the same time foreign business interests have been and are invited to participate in the development of Cuba’s hotel industry, with the foreign investors having a 50 percent share and the Cuban Government the other 50 percent. Apart from the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba resulting in a tremendous expansion of the Cuban hotel and industry, the relatively recent discovery of deposits of crude oil and natural gas off the coast of Cuba will allow for US energy companies to invest in the development of a Cuban crude oil and natural gas industry. The benefits will be two fold.

This, of course, does not rule out the possibility of United Kingdom and Western Europe investors as well who, while they are not prevented by the US embargo from investing and developing a Cuban energy industry, would still be limited by the global economic downturn, particularly as Cuba’s oil and gas deposits are in very deep waters.

Trinidad and Tobago has in the past enjoyed a favourable balance of trade with Cuba, with at one stage its exports to Cuba being 30 times as great as its imports from the Spanish speaking country. Some of the principal Trinidad and Tobago exports to Cuba have in the past embraced anhydrous ammonia, bars and rods of non-alloy steel, gas oil, other petroleum products, liquefied butane and liquefied propane.

But even as this columnist has for several years advocated the lifting of the United States embargo on Cuba and today urges President Obama to relegate the embargo to the dustbin of history I recognise that the anticipated increase in Cuba’s tourism industry, will result in a marked drop in overnight and short and medium term visitor arrivals re Trinidad and Tobago and other Caricom Member States. This will mean a reduction in revenue from tourism. Nonetheless, what is important is the broader picture.

Cuba after any lifting of the US embargo, if only because of the emphasis placed by its post Fulgencio Batista leaders, is almost certain to resist attempts to have Cuba as a source for primary products.

Indeed, Cuba has a more bankable work force than any other other Caribbean island nation save for Trinidad and Tobago. Because of its proximity to the United States, however, and the covert interest of many Americans and the open interest demonstrated by European investors, a lifting of the US embargo will see a close to rapid development of its economy, limited only by the ongoing world recession.



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