(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – Lisa Hanna, the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) foreign affairs spokesperson, is pressing the United States to lift its “failed embargo” on Cuba, saying it was incomprehensible and robbing both countries, as well as Jamaica, of valuable trade, investment and cultural opportunities.
Hanna recalled Jamaica’s long-standing opposition to the embargo and urged the Government to remain resolute, in a presentation to Parliament earlier this month.
Following is a lightly edited version of her statement:
As the world seeks to move from confrontation to conciliation, all of us have a responsibility to adopt approaches that respect the right of self-determination and are tolerant of different economic and political systems.
It has been over 55 years since the US imposed an embargo on Cuba. The world has changed in profound ways over the course of 55 years. Not only has the embargo failed, but it has imposed severe hardship on the people of Cuba and deprived both the US and Cuba of valuable trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges.
It is incomprehensible that the embargo is still in place. This is the repeatedly expressed view of over 190 countries. The international community has, with few exceptions, resoundingly continued to register their condemnation over the past 20 years and have disregarded the embargo in their economic and diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Today, I say to our friend, the United States of America, that this failed strategy should have been abandoned long ago. The dismantling of the embargo would be consistent with US approaches of reconciliation with countries such as Vietnam. We call on the US to end the embargo and restore normality to relations with Cuba.
We have consistently opposed the embargo and stand ready to work with the Government to assist our two closest neighbours in normalisation of relations. Let’s find a way to remove this outdated, counterproductive, embarrassing, and failed embargo.
The US embargo imposed on Cuba on February 3, 1962, involved “an embargo on all trade between the United States and Cuba”. This action was a continuation of a strategy aimed at regime change in Cuba which originated at the height of the Cold War.
An earlier manifestation of this strategy was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the danger of this strategy brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in an incident which has become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It might be that the US policy at the time of a bitter Cold War demanded a show of strength in the prevention of the spread communism in the Caribbean. Since then the USSR has been dissolved; Communist China lends more money to the USA than any other country in the world; and the Cold War came to an end.
Common co-existence with the ideology of communism is now the USA’s daily reality. It is pellucid that Cuba can no longer be regarded as a credible threat to American national security.
There is declining political support in the US for the continuation of the embargo. The Cuban Research Institute in its 2011 Cuba Poll found that more than 80 per cent of Cuban Americans surveyed, said the embargo has not worked very well or not at all. The wider US community agrees.
A 2012 opinion poll of more than 1,000 US adults found that 62 per cent of respondents thought the United States should re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only one in four was against it. Among Americans surveyed, 57 per cent think that the travel ban to Cuba should be lifted, while only 27 per cent think the ban should remain. Regarding the trade embargo, 51 per cent of Americans want to open trade with Cuba, compared to 29 per cent who do not.
Jamaica has always shown assertive, courageous and enlightened leadership in our foreign policy and diplomacy. First, when the Rt Excellent Norman Manley, even before our Independence, led the world when he took the position that Jamaica would not trade with apartheid South Africa.
Since then, the policy of PNP administrations have been founded on: (1) respect for the sovereignty of nations (2) respect for human rights and the citizens of countries and (3) a non- aligned stance. When it was deemed detrimental to support Cuba after 1962, Michael Manley showed unrelenting support and led a united front with Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1972, being the first in the western hemisphere.
The Government and people of Cuba are well aware of our friendship and strong solidarity. Over the years, Jamaica has demonstrated our support, cooperation and partnership. Our two countries have shared mutually beneficial bilateral programmes, especially in sports, education and health. However, the Eembargo has not allowed the full potential of our relationship with Cuba or USA to flourish. It is time to recognise that the end of the embargo is not just a US-Cuba issue BUT one crucial to the national interests of Caribbean countries. The collective economic development of the Caribbean has been impaired as the embargo inhibits trade, investment, and tourism with a market of 11.5 million people.
In 2014, President Barack Obama uttered the watershed declaration: “It is now time to acknowledge that particular policy has failed.” With the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the easement of restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba in 2014 by President Obama, the Jamaican American Chamber of Commerce recommended that their office be the conduit to facilitate trade with American businesses in Cuba.
Jamaica, with its geographical location, is ideally suited as a logistics/coordination port for supplies and business services to Cuba. We are already positioning ourselves as an international transportation hub for the operations of large ships, especially from Asia and the Far East.
Cuba will be important in these trans-shipment decisions. The embargo as embodied in a raft of US legislation, at the core of which is the Helms/Burton Act, constitutes serious deterrents to both our nations expanding our economies for growth.
This 1996 Act, intended to strengthen the embargo, applies US law — extraterritorially — to associated parties of US companies. For example, in 2006 the Bank of Nova Scotia in Jamaica decided to end banking services to Cubans living and doing businesses in Jamaica. In 2014, Price Smart suspended membership accounts to Cubans who are non-permanent residents in Jamaica or of any other country.
So this is not simply a matter of sentimental support for our close neighbours and friends in Cuba, this is a matter of urgent concern to Jamaica. It’s time for us to start using our immense influence through our diplomatic channels to remove the embargo.
Recently, Cuba has taken some significant steps toward reconciliation that could easily form the basis for new negotiations to succeed. The Miami Herald newspaper recently reported Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez’s announcements that an estimated 800,000 people with a Cuban passport living abroad will no longer need a qualification stamp in their passports to travel to the island, making it easier for them to visit. Also, children born abroad of Cuban parents would also be able to apply for Cuban citizenship; Cubans who left the island through illegal means — by raft, for example — will be welcomed back to Cuba for visits; Cuban Americans will also be allowed in to enter and leave from Cuba on recreational boats as long as they travel through certain designated marinas.
This is a clear and strong signal from Cuba of their intent to have respectful negotiations.
We have to recognise that in the face of the overwhelming statistics supporting the lifting of the embargo, the admission of the failure of the policy at the highest level of the United States Administration, and the unanimous resolution in the United Nations, there has been no movement in the US Congress to do the right thing and lift the embargo.
The UN is perhaps the most qualified body to provide interlocutory support to help both proud nations secure a pathway for a negotiated settlement to end this embargo. Furthermore, both nations have been long-standing support members of the UN.
Jamaica will have to do what it has always done best in these situations — remain resolute in the UN against any rollback; mobilise our Caricom partners in the struggle; and use our enormous influence in the G77 and China to help prevent any breach among the developing countries.
Last year marked a new stage in the annual process at the UN. For the first time there was not a single vote against the resolution. The representative of the United States, one of two States which abstained, said: “It was time for a new chapter of cooperation.”
Our representative must not only vote in favour of the UN resolution on every occasion, but must be proactive, purposeful and persistent in our resolve towards ensuring the outcome we all desire.