On Tuesday, Cuba proposed its draft resolution to the United Nations to end the 51-year-old economic embargo against the socialist-run island. T&T, along with other nations at the UN General Assembly, votes overwhelmingly every year against the United States-imposed embargo. In an interview last week Thursday at the Cuban Embassy, Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain, Cuban ambassador to T&T, Humberto Rivero, said the embargo has adversely affected the Cuban economy and the entire international community sees it is a failure. "When American President Barack Obama was in T&T for the Summit (of the Americas) in 2009, he held a conference saying he received many messages to end the embargo and said wherever there are Cuban doctors, people call for the ending of the embargo. What has happened since? So far, the Americans' approach has been disappointing." According to Cuba's report that it presented to the United Nations on Tuesday, "conservative estimates" show that from the inception of the blockade in 1960-2010, direct costs of the economic blockade to the Cuban economy has US$108 billion. The report stated: "Taking into account the extreme devaluation of the dollar against the price of gold on the international financial market during 2010 and this continual trend, the damage caused to the Cuban economy would exceed US$975 billion."
Parameters of the blockade
To the argument that the embargo has stifled Cuba's economy, the US government has argued that there are human right abuses in Cuba and the embargo will continue. According to Cuba's report to the UN, the embargo has affected all facets of Cuban life:
• Were it not for the embargo, Cuba could have received foreign direct investment of US$600 billion.
• US companies that work in the tourism sector cannot get involved in Cuba's tourism industry, nor can Cuba benefit from US hotel chains in the Caribbean, as in the case of Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott and Holiday Inn.
• Foreign banks, including European banks, are penalised by the US if they try to do business with Cuba in US currency.
• In January, the US seized US$4,207,000 of funding from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria earmarked for co-operation projects in Cuba.
• Export of goods and services to Cuba continue to be banned with few exceptions. Merchant ships of any country touching Cuba ports are still forbidden to call on any US port for 180 days.
• No company affiliated to and sharing interests with any US company is allowed to trade with any Cuban company.
• The US prevents its citizens from travelling to Cuba with few exceptions and under very strict regulations.
• Twitter acknowledged full responsibility for having blocked text messages from cellphones in Cuba.
However, US President Obama has taken steps small steps to mitigate the onerous embargo.
In January, measures were announced including lifting the travel ban to Cuba for US citizens for academic, educational, cultural and religious travel.
Cuba has called the easing of the sanctions "insufficient and limited in scope."
Impact on Caribbean
Rivero is confident that once the embargo is lifted, it will not have an adverse impact on Caribbean economies. Giving the example of tourism, Rivero said 2.5 million people visited Cuba in 2010.
"The Americans have been sending a message that if the blockade is removed, then tourism arrivals in Cuba will increase and other Caricom territories will lose their tourism share of the market. We say that will not happen. Of course, we welcome American tourists. "Our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean should not be affected if that happens. We could establish agreements on multi-destinations. We have good trade relations with other Caricom countries. It could be better, though. The Brazilian aircraft that Caribbean Airlines have, some of them have more than ten per cent American parts and we could not buy them to increase tourism arrivals. Our fleet has been affected."
Americans against the embargo
There has been growing opposition by Americans against the embargo, now viewed as an anachronistic hangover from the Cold War.
The Cuban report gave examples.
• On July 9, 2010, an online survey conducted by USA Today, which included 1,475 participants, showed that 94 per cent were in favour of lifting the blockade.
• On July 13, 2010, an article by Representative William Delahunt, (Democrat/Massachusetts), published by the Washington Post, stated that putting an end to the blockade would help the Cuban people.
• In September 2010, Bloomberg announced that cellphone company Nokia had requested that Obama lift the blockade so it could sell its products in Cuba.
T&T and Cuba
In 2007, T&T established a trade facilitation office in Cuba to facilitate greater bilateral trade. According to the Cuban ambassador, the balance of trade between T&T and Cuba is US$30 million. "It's not balanced and it is favour of T&T. Both parties need to work on that. T&T is on the top of the trade in all Caricom countries. The amount of the trade is larger than all the other 13 Caricom countries put together." One of T&T's biggest exports to Cuba is methanol. "Methanol is used in the production of nickel in Cuba, which is a big industry in Cuba," he said. Speaking about direct flights between T&T and Cuba, he asked when will Caribbean Airlines be flying directly to Havana.
"Up to 2004 and 2005, BWIA used to fly to Havana directly twice a week. As of now, if you wish to go Cuba you have to go with Copa Airlines through Panama," he said. He pointed out that ties in other areas between T&T and Cuba have been close. This year, four T&T students were given scholarships to study medicine in Cuba. Last Saturday, nine Cuban coaches arrived in T&T on two-year contracts with the Ministry of Sports. He said there is potential for T&T to import many products from Cuba, citing Cuba's famous rum as an example.
"I ask T&T businessmen why I don't see Cuban rum in T&T. One person said they will bring the elite Havana Club rum to sell here. I hope in a short time I will see it here." He said T&T has supported Cuba at the UN. "T&T has usually been supporting and voting in favour of the draft resolution presented by Cuba. In other regional and other international bodies, T&T's voice has been in support of the Cuba's call to end the blockade."