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Posted November 18, 2003 by publisher in US Tourism to Cuba

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Ivan Martinez | [url=http://www.JamaicaObserver.com]http://www.JamaicaObserver.com[/url]

OVER the years, inside and outside the United States, it has been customary to link the Cuban exile population in the US with the Republican Party, and label them as extremist, arch-reactionaries in politics, and being a group opposed to Third World aspirations.

It is true that three Cuban-Americans are in the US House of Representatives as members of the Republican Party for south Florida and that the late Jorge Mas, the best known, most articulate, and most powerful Washington lobbyist against Cuba’s communist regime, was also a person whose political preferences were with the more Conservative Party in the US.

All these things have reinforced the idea of a rightist exile population. Notwithstanding, the reality is completely different from what it seems. The majority of the two million Cubans living in the USA, according to the most recent surveys, favour the lifting of American sanctions on Cuba: the long-standing economic embargo, the ban on travel of Americans to Cuba, and at the same time they want the continuation of their remittances and their trips back home.

Few people seem to recognise that the social and ethnic composition of the Cubans in South Florida and in the US, in general, has changed dramatically since the mid-1970s. The pproach of this new Cuban community to the solution of the Cuban problem is radically different from the approach of those who were exiled in the 1960s.

The new wave of Cuban exiles, “the silent majority”, as some publicists call them, have neither the clout nor the financial means to make their voices heard everywhere or to have lobbyists negotiate on their behalf on Capitol Hill. Nor do they have access to the political machinery to elect representatives to both houses in Washington DC.

This “silent majority”, unlike the first generation of Cuban exiles, neither suffered the expropriation of their properties nor were crushed and destroyed politically and economically as a dominant class. The “silent majority” were not the elite. They were simple people, workers and professionals disillusioned and frustrated with a political system that could not fill their hopes for civil and political rights and the right to own property. They are people with broken dreams who gambled democracy with individual freedom of choice.

Although President Bush has a historical commitment to conservative Cubans, who helped him to win the presidential elections with the electoral victory in the state of Florida, the US Senate, dominated by the Republicans, joined the House of Representatives (also dominated by the Republican Party) in approving legislation that would allow US citizens to travel to Cuba legally (the only country in the world where Americans are not allowed to travel freely). That legislation ruled out out a four-decade-old policy that deemed the travel of ordinary Americans to Cuba a criminal offence.

The Senate vote was 59 to 36, a result that is a clear demonstration that Republicans who control the Chamber, and Democrats joined together beyond partisan lines to guarantee to all Americans their constitutional right to move freely around the world, according to their wishes and desires.

This vote in Congress came against repeated warnings made by President Bush that he would veto any bill that lifted the ban on Americans travelling to Cuba, a position held by conservative Cuban-Americans.

It is obvious that the US Congress and many Republican legislators no longer believe, like conservative Cuban-Americans do, that Americans visiting Cuba would help the Cuban government to solve its desperate economic and social problems, or get rid of its enormous external debt with the western countries and Russia, estimated at more than US$30 billion.

President Bush’s threat of vetoing the bill is a political risk that he is assuming vis--vis the presidential election next year. If he carries out this threat, the resolution of Congress would govern the country against the will, not only of the Senate and the House of Representatives, but against the will of the entire American people represented by Congress.

If the US president decides not to veto the bill, he surely will lose the support of the conservative Cuban political machinery in South Florida, although these Cubans will be unwilling to change their allegiance and turn their votes towards the Democratic party.

For “the silent majority” of Cubans who over the years have been deemed by the international community as being one of the more conservative exile groups in the history of modern politics, the bill approved by Congress might serve their interests. It would allow them to show their strength, their political agenda, and finally, the possibility of abandoning the old status of being a “silent majority” without a strong voice, lobbying power, and international connections, especially in the region and the global south.

President Bush has two simple alternatives: either he remains loyal to the Cuban conservative groups in South Florida and be seen as their captive in relation to Cuba, or he creates a new policy towards Havana more consistent with the post-Cold War era and the interests of the American people reflected in the Bill passed by the US Congress.

Future Caribbean tourism

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Socialism in Eastern Europe, the view has been circulating that when Americans visit Cuba en masse, the tourist industry in the rest of the Caribbean region will suffer to the extent of being placed on the brink of bankruptcy, while Cuba will get rich. It is important to remind those who still believe this, that such a possibility is very unlikely to happen. Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas, Antigua, etc, have developed for decades a solid international reputation as tourism destinations.

At first, Cuba will attract a lot of curious American visitors owing to the novelty of visiting the former “forbidden apple”, but in the short and medium term, Cuba will have to compete ferociously with the rest of the Caribbean to have a good share of the tourism business with its partners in the region.

Moreover, Americans freely visiting Cuba would bring a real challenge to the tourism industry in the region, and would also create the urgent and desperate need of solving the more acute social problems existing in some Caribbean societies.

It is imperative for the rest of the region to reduce substantially, or eliminate completely, the high rate of crime and violence that exist in many of our countries. If the Caribbean is going to compete on equal footing with the largest island in the basin, all these current social problems must be attacked right away.

Another dimension is the need to pool Caricom’s tourism resources while offering a better product with different variations and innovative attractions. The challenges are there and they must create all the necessary conditions and the necessary to tackle them and obtain lasting outcomes.

To our readers: Lloyd B Smith’s column Life in the West did not arrive in time for publication.

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