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GUEST COMMENTARY: No U.S. Domination After Castro

Posted by kinchendavid on August 4, 2006

By  Sir Ronald Sanders

Fidel Castro’s temporary step-down from power while he convalesces from surgery has again raised the question about what happens with Cuba after he dies.

 The expectation in some parts of the United States especially Miami, the home of many Cuban exiles, is that the Castro regime will collapse, Cuban exiles will return in triumph to claim expropriated properties, and Cuba will revert to the US-controlled satellite that it was prior to the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power.

 None of these scenarios is likely to be played out.

 Castro’s death, whenever it comes, may be cause for celebration by Cuban exile groups in the US and it will probably be welcomed by groups opposed to him within Cuba itself.  But, it is unlikely to mean a sudden collapse of the Cuban government and the dismantling of the system it operates.

 Cuba is not the same country it was in 1959 when it was highly reliant on the US for trade and investment, its people were largely uneducated and its government inexperienced in the ways of international diplomacy.

 Today, the Cuban people boast an education system that has given them literacy, qualifications and confidence.

 There are some 500,000 students currently enrolled in its University system, and this number does not count the many hundreds of thousands who have graduated since 1959.

 These are people who are perfectly able to negotiate in their own best interests, and they are most unlikely to sit back and allow the US or any other country to dictate terms of engagement for trade or investment.

 It has to be recalled that the Cuban people have done without US trade and investment since the US itself imposed an embargo on Cuba.  Not having access to the US market will bring no new development or hardship to Cuba. 

 At the end of the first quarter of this year, President Castro announced 11.8 percent growth in the Cuban economy. 

 This was achieved by a rapidly growing tourism industry and by increased trade in goods with a number of Latin American countries and the Peoples Republic of China.  The US played no part in it.

 

Cuba’s tourism now earns approximately US$2 billion a year with half of the tourists coming from Canada, Argentina and Venezuela, and the other half from Europe, principally Italy, Germany and France.  Air Canada alone runs 10 flights per week into Cuba in the summer, rising to 28 weekly flights in the winter.

 While Cuba’s tourism would increase if Americans were allowed to travel there, the present level of investment in tourism in Cuba and large number of visitors (2 million in 2004), suggest that Cuba can afford to drive a tough bargain with US companies.

 The truth is the inordinate length of the US government embargo against Cuba, and the years of restriction on US companies investing in Cuba may very well have created a highly competitive and very difficult market for US companies to enter as new boys on the block.

 Sure, many of the Cuban people would like to be able to enjoy unrestricted travel including to the US.  But, a desire to travel and even to buy goods produced in other countries does not amount to a surrender of Cuban pride and autonomy.

 And, the Cubans have grown in confidence.  They are perfectly aware of their accomplishments in health, education and international diplomacy. They know that their doctors and nurses are serving in many countries of the world, particularly the Caribbean and Latin America; that their universities are the training ground for an increasingly large number of students from neighbouring countries; and that their professional foreign service has won them respect in the UN and other international organisations.

 As for the return of expropriated property to Cuban exiles: this too is unlikely to happen unless other governments, such as the US, are prepared to underwrite compensation to them.  The lands are now occupied either by hundreds of Cubans who stayed at home after the revolution or by state-owned enterprises. 

 There may be agitation for the return of expropriated property in the US Congress from those reliant on the votes or financial backing of Cuban exiles, but in a post-Castro era – particularly one in which the US embargo is dropped and US investors have to compete with investors from China, Canada, Europe and Latin America, a tough and demanding stance by the US on compensation for Cuban exiles will cut little ice.

 In any event, when Castro dies, neither the government nor the system will collapse overnight.  There are now too many – including the military – with a vested interest in ensuring that its transformation to something else is gradual.

 What the “something else” will be is difficult to predict fully.  But, it is reasonable to assume that it will include a more open political system within Cuba itself, and greater tolerance for dissent.

 This will come from the insistence of Cuba’s trading partners in the European Union, Canada.  For, if Cuba wants to bargain hard with the US in a post-embargo era, and to ensure that it does not become too reliant on China as it was with Russia, it will have to act on the urgings of the EU and Canada.

 The Cuban economy will also have to open to outside investors in a less restricted way than it now is.  This will mean greater foreign ownership than presently exists in key areas such as oil, natural gas and nickel.  But, it does not have to mean foreign domination, and certainly not domination by any one country.

 In a real sense, the US embargo has helped Cuba to strengthen its political and economic independence.

 So, no hope for US domination of Cuba should spring from the prospect of Fidel Castro’s death.  The better prospect, particularly for US companies, is an end to the US embargo and a real effort by both the US and Cuba to establish the terms of a relationship that would benefit them both.

                                                         * * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community.

Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com

          

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