A progressive move, it represents President Obama’s first major step in the thawing of US relations with Cuba, which were defined by the long ended cold war. The next logical steps appear to be a lifting of the trade embargo and restrictions on travel to Cuba by United States citizens generally. Whether these will be announced by President Obama at Friday’s opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of- Spain at which he is scheduled to speak, along with four other leaders, including Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning, is anyone’s guess.
Such moves, however, will be widely accepted by other Summit leaders, and will stimulate economic and social pluses in Cuba, whose gross domestic product per capita is some US $3,000 or less than one third that of this country’s. In turn, Cuba’s import market which today is approximately US$2b, should expand appreciably as a result both of the lifting of the travel restrictions, and the abolishing of the ceiling on remittances.
Cuba’s tourism which has experienced a dramatic growth in the past two decades, what with its hotel rooms more than doubling, should further expand appreciably, following on Obama’s move. So that the US President’s policy position change, announced on Monday, particularly if followed by a normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, will mean that Cuba may very well be the dominant factor in tourism in the Caribbean region.
This will lead to a welcome growth in the country’s imports as well as exports, balance of payments, foreign reserve and overall GDP. Trinidad and Tobago will, undoubtedly, be a beneficiary of any Cuban economic expansion. This country, which has had an overall favourable balance of trade with Cuba through the years, has had as exports to the Latin American nations, such products as anhydrous ammonia, gas, oil, liquefied butane as well as propane, bars and rods of non alloy steel, and aerated beverages.
Meanwhile Cuba’s exclusion from this weekend’s Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port-of- Spain, is in sharp contrast to the Association of Caribbean States, Heads of Government Summit, here in August 1995, which was attended and addressed by then Cuban President Fidel Castro. Prime Minister Manning has welcomed Obama’s decision and while chatting with journalists while touring the Summit Village, offered that the US President’s speech might touch on the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba. “I suppose that those gestures are very welcome,” Manning added. The advice on President Obama’s historic move had come in a statement by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.
When President Obama in his inauguration speech on January 20 declared: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward,” he could easily have been referring to Cuba as well.
And as the White House Press Secretary stated on Monday: “The President would like to see greater freedom for the Cuban people. There are actions that he can and has taken today to open up the flow of information to provide some important steps to help that.” The indications are that Cuba will be a principal participant at the Sixth Summit of the Americas.