Published On: Wed, Dec 17th, 2014

More Christmas Presents from Santa Obama

dekker_0After the President of the USA doled out an executive order/pardon for 8 million undocumented immigrants in the USA, the jolly Santa Obama put a new present under the tree; the normalization of relations with Cuba.

After more than 50 years of enforcing an embargo against the terrorist regime of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, Obama promised easing visitor-visas and allowing normal trade between Cuba and the USA and, ultimately, normalizing relations by exchanging ambassadors. The move was preceded by years of salami tactic of easing sanctions for visitors spending US dollars on the island, to Cuban-Americans sending enormous amounts of aid goods to their impoverished family members.

For years already, visitors were allowed to travel for cultural destination events. Expectations were running high, but the tourist stream of millions to the island never materialized. That failure may foreshadow the market reaction to the latest move.

After 1997, the Castro- communist regime normalized relations between Cuban citizens and foreign visitors by law. For nearly forty years prior, Cubans could be arrested for as little as talking to a foreigner. For more than 30 years predominantly European discount sun-seekers frequented especially designated tourist -zones on the island. Cuba now sports a meager tourist industry with only about three million tourists per year, far less than the nearly four million big spenders who visit the tiny island of Key West, Florida, just 90 miles north of Havana.

Years of communism have not fostered a service mentality amongst Cubans that welcomes foreigners. Often it appears that Cuban hosts are interested in nothing but hard currency, or barter goods. Ingenious corporate structures and bank payment schemes were set up to circumvent the US/Cuban trade sanctions. For St. Maarten, Haiti and the Dominican Republic smuggling via the off -shore back door became a thriving business. For years, parallel trade ingeniously outsmarted all trade sanctions. It looks like all those businesses will dry up now.

The Caribbean shadow economy from narco trade also found cordial and warm reception in Cuba without difficult questions asked and that may no longer go unnoticed. So President Raul Castro will have to balance the pros and cons of normalized relations with the USA.

How Curacao can benefit from the move is not very clear. Relations with Cuba have been strained for years over an alleged slave labor conflict at a Curacao ship wharf. Direct flights between the islands were discontinued more than ten years ago. Once, a large contingent of palm trees was purchased in Cuba by the government to embellish Curacao’s avenues, but few survived. It will require some very strong fertilizer to rekindle the sleeping seeds of cooperation between the two islands.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker - Opinion Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle.

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