Changing moods - changing times
Guyana Chronicle
May 3, 2003

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IN 1959, Cuba shook off the shackles of American colonialism and established a Latin republic in the once Spanish/American pleasure resort.

In retaliation for conduct deemed unfriendly to America, the U.S. imposed an economic embargo in October 1960 and followed up in January 1961 by breaking off diplomatic relations with Cuba. President Fidel Castro responded and on 16 April 1961 Cuba was declared a Socialist Republic. In 1962, the missile crisis between Cuba-USSR and the U.S. brought the world to the brink of international hostilities and drove Cuba almost irrevocably into the Soviet orbit.

Since 1962 Cuba has shared conflict-pregnant relations with the USA and, given the nature of international cold war politics, the Cuban spectre has significantly influenced U.S. policy initiatives in the region. Indeed, given the America orientation, it made good economic and political sense for the recently postcolonial states of the region to treat Cuba as the political pariah of the Caribbean. The few Caribbean states that have dared to invest in Cuban friendship have benefited from Cuban largess, especially in the fields of medicine and education, but they have, on occasion been severely reprimanded for their temerity.

Throughout the years America has maintained its opposition to the Castro regime and entertains on its soil a militant Cuban dissident community. Together they have consistently campaigned against the Castro Government. Indeed, the evidence suggests that together, they have done everything, including an abortive armed intervention, to effect regime change in Cuba. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has insisted that it is prepared to respond reciprocally if and when the Cuban Government initiates fundamental, systematic democratic change and respect for human rights. The indications have been that Cuba was gradually and perhaps reluctantly but inevitably moving towards such reforms.

In the field of economics such reforms have included the development of the tourism industry, allowing foreign investment, legalizing the dollar and authorizing self-employment for some 150 occupations. In 1995, foreign ownership in joint venture enterprises attracted some 400 ventures and nearly US$4.5b. By the same token tourism surpassed sugar as the primary foreign exchange earner by 2000 with roughly 1.7 million tourists generating about US$1.9b in gross revenues. While no capitalist safe haven had been created in Cuba as a China there was at long last some hope.

On the political front, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba and there was a visible softening of attitudes to a number of issues including open governance, human rights, the role of the church and amnesty for political prisoners. Then last year, the Varela Project, saw a petition for a referendum on civil rights, amnesty for some political prisoners and the introduction of economic and political reforms. Indeed, the feeling abroad suggested that a search to identify a successor to President Castro might have begun in Cuba.

Within recent times, Cuba's fledgling reforms have encouraged independent opinion to petition the U.S. for a more liberal policy towards Cuba and the response, though slow has not been altogether without favour. While not reneging on its commitment to democratization of the Cuban society, free election and strict adherence to fundamental human rights, the U.S. administration has made a number of concessions, including the resumption of direct mail service, travel and remittances to Cuba as well as the sale of food and medicines to Cuba. What is more, as recently as 30 April a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, 2003, which seeks to lift the remaining restrictions on travel to Cuba.

In the circumstance, it is difficult to understand the recent conduct of the Cuban Government. As if seized by a new mood, 75 known dissidents were given jail sentences ranging from 12 to 28 years at trials lasting less than a day for each. As if this were not cause enough the summary trial and execution of three Cubans charged with the attempted hijacking of a passenger ferry to Florida has embarrassed the friends of Cuba, re-energized the anti Cuba lobby and done the Cuban cause considerable harm.

We have nothing but respect for Cuba, friendship for the Cuban people and admiration for President Castro but we are living in the third millennium, where the charter of fundamental human rights is sacrosanct.

While we continue to respect President Castro, we are nevertheless inclined to join with his CARICOM colleagues in their plea for clemency for the imprisoned dissidents.

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