JG - Bruce Golding's Cuba visit an embrace of change
Bruce Golding's Cuba visit an embrace of change
published: Sunday May 11, 2008
David Jessop, Contributor
On May 4, Jamaica's prime minister, Bruce Golding, plus Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Baugh, and four other Cabinet ministers in charge of tourism, agriculture, housing and health, travelled to Havana.
There, as befits a relationship between two friendly neighbouring Caribbean nations, they were met at the very highest levels of the Cuban government and party.
However, this was no routine event. It was of unusual significance to both countries, both in its substance and its implications, and conveyed important messages about change in both Jamaica and Cuba.
In contrast to episodes when the relationship between Cuba and Jamaica has been politicised, on this visit, the Jamaican Government sought pragmatic and economically viable ways to develop a much closer social and economic relationship with its largest regional neighbour on the basis of identifying areas of practical cooperation.
But it went beyond that as it recognised that Cuba and Jamaica were both undergoing a process of change and modernisation and that regional economic dynamics could change radically if after the United States presidential elections there were to be a gradual movement to normalise relations with Cuba.
The visit also highlighted the fact that Jamaica's Government, almost unnoticed by the world, has embarked on a policy that is radically different to many of its partners in Caricom.
Whether it is in the area of foreign policy, tourism, agriculture, eco-nomic development or the prevention of crime, it has, with very little fuss, begun to adopt an approach that looks forwards rather than back, asserts its independence of action, embraces change and attempts to find new ways to create growth.
It has done so because its leadership has recognised that the Caribbean, and Jamaica in particular, needs to find new ways to relate to the rapidly changing world and the real possibility that the larger economies of the Western Caribbean will be able to better take advantage of changing trade relationships.
This approach can be seen in Jamaica's full and public endorsement of the economic partnership agreement with Europe; in its willingness to consider how successful the social partnerships adopted by other nations might be adapted to encourage economic growth; its embrace of tourism as an important economic driver; its acceptance of the need for a revolution in agriculture in order to place greater emphasis on food production; its preparedness to challenge inter-regional arrangements where they no longer deliver what is necessary in its national interest; and now, in its embrace of a new relationship with Cuba.
Prime Minister Golding's visit to Cuba was the first full and formal visit by any Caribbean head of state to Havana since Raúl Castro became Cuba's president.
It was unlikely to have been a coincidence that it came just weeks after Jamaica had declined an invitation to participate in a meeting between President Bush and the Caribbean's newly elected heads of government.
To the annoyance of Washington, relations between the nations of Cariforum and Cuba have been largely normal since 1972.
To state the obvious: Cuba is a friend and neighbour that shares a common international view on most issues with Caribbean governments, has common moral principles, is an economic partner, provides medical and educational support, and suffers from many of the same constraints on its economic growth as does the rest of the region.
In terms of substance, Golding's Cuba visit involved the signing of five framework agreements in agriculture, health care, tourism, housing and water-resource management.
There were also exchanges on cooperation on narcotics interdiction.
A meeting of the Cuba-Jamaica Joint Commission, to take forward what was discussed, is expected soon. Of particular importance were the exchanges in the area of health care, where Cuban offers of further assistance could lead to significant changes to health-care provision for all Jamaicans.
In another potentially important move to deepen relations, the prime minister met with members of the Jamaican Diaspora in Cuba, indicating that he hoped that it would be possible to receive them "as members of a family we have not seen for some time".
The agreements, which aim to rapidly deepen the relationship, were coupled with some important political messages. If the US was prepared to engage constructively with China and Vietnam, the time had come, he said, for constructive engagement with Cuba, Golding told journalists.
"We gave (an assurance) that not only would we continue to support that view, but that we would use whatever influence we have, however limited, to seek to encourage and influence the thinking of the US government towards a different approach to Cuba."
Golding said there were clear signs that Cuba was moving on a path of reform. "Some very significant initiatives have been taken and we believe it is something that ought to be encouraged," said Golding.
More generally, Golding has made it clear that it is his intention to rapidly deepen relations with Cuba so that the two economies become complementary.
The Jamaican visit came at a time when international relationships with Cuba may change.
In Europe, in June, there will be a review of Europe's common position on Cuba, which, like the US embargo and nearly fifty years of attempts by Washington to bring down the Cuban government, has been a failure.
A clearer indication of European thinking may emerge at the next EU/Latin American and the Caribbean summit taking place in Lima, Peru, on May 16, where, if as expected, in the context of the meeting's final declaration, Europe as a group responds to those Latin and European nations that are seeking to criticise Cuba.
In the US, a change in relations with Cuba is likely if a Democrat wins the US presidential election.
Initially, this would most probably be in areas that require decisions that do not have to be taken legislatively through Congress and will only move at the pace at which Cuba wishes to engage.
Dynamics would change
This could involve enabling freer US travel to Cuba and ending the ban on remittances and engagement in functional cooperation on issues such as narcotics interdiction and scientific exchanges.
As for Cuba, President Castro has made it clear that his nation is prepared to enter into dialogue on the basis of mutual respect of sovereignty and without pre-conditions.
In all of this, Cuban ministers make it clear that as a Caribbean nation, its relationship with the region will remain unaffected.
However, if over time, engagement leads to Cuba's economic resurgence in the hemisphere, no one should doubt that all of the dynamics of the modern Caribbean would change.
Jamaica's Government has understood this and is showing a vision and leadership that will bring benefit to its people, to Cuba and to the region.
David Jessop is director of the Caribbean Council. Email: email@example.com