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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Region fights for Cuba


BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Region fights for Cuba

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It’s like a recurring decimal at the United Nations (UN). Every year at this time when the world body holds its general debate on foreign policy, developing countries, Barbados among them seize the opportunity to focus global attention on how they feel about the issues they are concerned about such as inadequate financing for development, climate change and on outmoded economic policies that don’t make sense.

One of them is a Cold War relic: America’s economic embargo against Cuba.

And when the discussion starts, Barbados, The Bahamas, Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and their neighbours raise their voices in vigorous protest against the economic blockade and Washington’s unfair treatment of Cuba.

But despite the global outcry that gets louder every year, the United States (US) keeps its trade sanctions in place. What makes The US attitude so inexplicable is that successive US presidents and the congress on Capitol Hill have maintained the archaic anti-Cuban economic policy despite the fact that it has opened the door to goods and services sold by countries once on Washington’s enemies list.

The most glaring example of the unfair treatment can be seen today on the bodies of Americans who wear clothes with a “Made In Vietnam” tag. Never mind that tens of thousands of American soldiers lost their lives in the Southeast Asian nation in a hopeless war that the US lost in the 1970s.

Now, the UN is debating the Cuba embargo issue and in a few weeks it will approve a resolution by a wide margin calling for the abolition of the trade sanctions but don’t expect President Barack Obama’s Washington to change the policy.

As they have done for decades, Caribbean nations are demanding the embargo’s end and they are using all too familiar language to get their points across.

A few days ago, Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McLean complained about Washington’s “unilateral action”, which is routinely branded by UN member-states as unfair and outmoded.

Barbadians, McClean says, “look forward to a time when soon when it (the embargo) will be relegated to the pages of history”. They will have several years to wait.

Like Barbados, Jamaica said it, too, was anticipating the day when the trade restrictions would be a thing of the past.

“We reiterate our support for an end to the economic financial and commercial embargo against Cuba and urge all states that continue to apply such measures to repeal and invalidate these laws,” was the way Senator Arnold Nicholson, the Foreign Minister and Minister of Foreign Trade, put it.

Trinidad and Tobago whose Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also used the word “reiterate” to argue for the elimination of the economic sanctions.

“The perpetuation of these measures against a developing country undermines our collective aspirations for a post 2015 development agenda where no one is left behind,” insisted Persad-Bissessar.

But the region’s most forceful insistence that Washington should end its restrictions on trade with Cuba came from one of the Caribbean’s youngest and perhaps its most eloquent foreign policy decision-maker, Camilo Gonsalves, son of the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

Unlike Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, which didn’t single out the US by name as the architect of damaging economic sanctions, the foreign minister didn’t hesitate to let the world know he had Washington in mind when he articulated a strong condemnation of the sanctions.

Calling Washington’s restrictions on trade an “illegal economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba”, Gonsalves employed tough language to describe the sanctions as “a retrograde and anachronistic attack on the very principles that undergird” the UN.

“The United States is a far greater nation than this petty, punitive and illegal embargo suggests,” the Foreign Minister went on. “We encourage it (Washington) to demonstrate the courage to cast aside this Cold War relic.”

Although St Lucia avoided name-calling, it was clear its Minister of Foreign Affairs Alva Baptiste had Washington in mind when he made his “plea for the removal of the blockade against” Cuba.  But Baptiste went further. He broadened St Lucia’s attack on the US by demanding Cuba’s removal from “the so-called Terrorist Watch List,” which he characterised as a “residue of the effects of the Cold War, which has disappeared.”

Patrice Nesbett, St Kitts-Nevis’ Foreign Minister, did a similar thing, invoking memories of the Cold War to contend the trade blockade ran “counter to principles of international law, principles which undergird” the UN.

Clearly, the economic sanctions have hurt Cuba. But they are not enough to prevent it from providing Barbados, Guyana and the rest of Caricom with the kind of development assistance that is making a substantial difference in people’s lives. But Washington’s embargo will not end until the large and influential Cuban immigrant population in the US decide it’s time to do so.