There is a danger that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations who stuck with Cuba throughout the Cold War period and onwards may be swept out of that Caribbean island’s market in this era of normalisation of relations with the United States.
That view emerged from a panel discussion marking the 43rd anniversary of CARICOM/Cuba diplomatic relations last Tuesday in the Horatio Cooke auditorium at the National Union of Public Workers headquarters.
Head of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at the UWI, Cave Hill , Dr Tennyson Joseph, spoke of upcoming meetings between US and Cuban officials to discuss the issue of compensation for property lost by US business people and individuals.
Noting that the relationship between those two states appears to be normalising, he expressed a concern that “our Caribbean business class as a whole might find themselves again being brushed aside by those who had historically opposed Cuba’s direction”.
Other panelists were Barbados’ Ambassador to CARICOM Robert Morris and one-time Guyana foreign minister and former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal. They reflected on the four decades-plus history of association with Cuba.
Ramphal spoke of how Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago defied the threat of sanctions and established diplomatic relations with Cuba on December 08, 1972 amid the Cold War that pitted that island against the US. This was followed one year later by formal CARICOM relations with Cuba for all members countries of the regional grouping.
However, the panelists observed that despite CARICOM’s solidarity with Cuba throughout the US 54-year blockage and economic embargo of the island, the region may be marginalised now that Cuba is open to the world, following re-establishment of ties with America this year.
“The pace at which the developed countries, the new friends of Cuba, are moving is mind-boggling,” said Adrian Padmore, general manager of major Barbados food product manufacturer, WIBISCO.
“You go into Cuba, you go to a meeting with the importer, and when you leave that meeting there are five Americans or Europeans in the lobby with suitcases, with products, waiting to go in after you – and five came out before you.”
Padmore, whose company has spearheaded four individual missions into Cuba in the last 12 months, said the singular purpose was” to understand the market and to find a way to get WIBISCO products into Cuba”.
He said so far his company had been successful in getting its products certified by the Cuban Food and Drug Association.
However, he said his concern was that his company’s experience in Cuba was not the same CARICOM-wide.
“I feel passionately that we have to use this head start that we have of 43 years of partnership and convert it into tangible trade and investment between Cuba and CARICOM.
“There are partnerships, strong friendship and alliances between CARICOM and Cuba which need to be put to work, and it can’t be done singlehandedly, it can’t be done by the private sector doing it solely,” he said.
“What is needed is some support of a political nature to go hand in hand with companies that are ready to go.”
In spite of Cuba-US normalisation of relations, Ambassador Morris believes that super-capitalist pressures will make it necessary for CARICOM and Cuba to develop even stronger links, and therein lies opportunities for businesses in this 15-member grouping.
“If you look at the current political and economic situation, be warned you are seeing to some extent in the political environment a definite move towards the right.”
The Ambassador mentioned economic indicators that the world economy may slow down again.
He said that for this reason CARICOM and Cuba have to work together even more so than before.
“We need to look at the trade arrangement that is being established for Barbados and the rest of CARICOM. We have to have courage in terms of giving Cuba the opportunity to expand some of its business relations with us, while we also try to get into Cuba’s market,” he said.
His comments were welcomed by Cuban Ambassador Francisco Pena, who said the people of Cuba were one with CARICOM.