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Cuban solidarity and Caricom travel

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Some weeks ago in this column I made the point that the Cuban people were the ones who had the sole right to decide their future. Among the comments fed back to me were ones which suggested that I was through my article helping to justify dictatorship and that by extension I was encouraging our Prime Minister in what they described as his ‘one-manism.’ My response was to make the point that Cuba was Cuba and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The respective governments, moreover, emerged out of different historical situations. I suggested too that there was still a deep misunderstanding of Cuba’s history and the dynamics within Cuban society today.{{more}}

I am not attempting to paint a rosy picture of Cuban society for the reality is otherwise. Cuba is a country with its fair share of problems, as with all of us. But what works for Cuba will not necessarily work for us. While in the process of preparing this week’s piece, I came across an interesting article by American author, commentator and filmmaker, Saul Landau. It appeared in ‘Counterpunch’ and was captioned “Misreading Cuba for 47 and a half years”. I want to share some of this. It helps me also to make the point that despite our criticisms of America, the country is complex and as is to be expected shares a wide variety of opinions. Our criticisms are, most of the time, mainly levelled against the governments. Landau stated that following Fidel’s illness little, if anything had changed. Cuba is not a one-man show. It is run by a bureaucracy and key officials know their roles and responsibilities which they continued to exercise following Fidel’s indisposition. He was, also puzzled by the noise made about not seeing Raul Castro in public until the arrival of Chavez. Raul, he stated, was not one that made many public appearances and for him to change that was to send certain signals that might have been misinterpreted.

There are two other comments made by Landau that I want to share. He writes, “Fidel’s temporary disability will not remove their free housing, education, health care and social services. They will also continue to receive subsidised food and entertainment.” This is something we should reflect on in a society like ours where health care and certain social services are so expensive. Critics of Cuban society are also quick to make reference to the extremely small salaries. But when one makes that point it is necessary to go further and factor in and calculate the cost of the number of subsidized services.

Like people everywhere, especially those of us living in the shadow of the US, we want to spend more on consumer goods and to get what we are told by the commercials that dictate our lives, are the good things in life. Many of Cuba’s problems arise from the murderous blockade by the US which makes it difficult for its citizens and those of other countries to trade freely and easily with her. Everything is designed, as Landau also notes, to strangle the economy and to isolate her diplomatically. The blockade is one thing but threats against Cuba and the many terrorist attacks that have been encouraged by successive US administrations is another. Really, as we criticise Cuba we should reflect on the state of our societies and examine their shortcomings. So-called democratic societies the world over suspend certain basic rights in times of war and when faced with what they perceive to be terrorist threats. The US is in a hostile relationship with Cuba and hence that country feels threatened by this powerful neighbour. A lot of the controls have to be seen against this background. As I have said previously America’s only interest in a democracy in Cuba is to be able to use its enormous wealth to control the Cuban people and resources. Democracy is equated with the periodic holding of elections. But even this is not always true, the examples of Venezuela and Palestine stand out in this respect. Alice Walker, the Afro-American author of the Colour Purple also agrees. In her view what the US wishes to impose is not democracy but domination and destruction.

Landau notes, too; “Under Castro, Cuba opened its medical schools that produce more doctors abroad than the World Health Organization. Its athletes, artists and scientists have etched their accomplishments in the minds of people all over the world. When Pakistan was struck by an earthquake Cuban not US doctors, poured in to help, as they did in Honduras when Nature punished that country” Let us remember that Cuba is a poor Caribbean country not a rich developed nation. It is good to know, too, that thousands of persons all over the world are expressing solidarity with the Cuban people. In a recent declaration entitled “Cuba’s Sovereignty Must Be Respected” over 18,000 artists, politicians and academics have affixed their names, demonstrating their solidarity with the Cuban people. Among them are Danny Glover the actor, Harry Belafonte, activist and artist and Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian author. Let the Cuban people decide. Our main task is to ensure that we travel a different path. History and geo-politics have forced Cuba into rather narrow confines. As Caribbean brothers and sisters our duty must be to assist by helping them to remove the obstacles and sharing solidarity with their struggles. Their future should be in their hands.

Air travel within Caricom

The Jamaican Observer carried the text of a letter to Prime Minister Simpson from James Moss Solomon the president of the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce. In that letter he explains his plight travelling from the Heads of Government’s meeting in St.Kitts. He writes “…Antigua, therefore, requires that you clear immigration and customs, leave the sterile area, recheck with BWIA counter, go through all at-counter physical baggage search, re-enter the sterile area, go through scanning and search, go through outgoing immigration. Then, if you are still alive, board your aircraft.” This should be familiar to all of us, luckily we are still alive. He informed her that this is ‘poor and totally unsatisfactory for the travelling customer’. His recommendations are: “That we ask the regional and international air carriers to meet with airport officials to recommend a solution; that we request a firm deadline for implementation of those recommendations; that we find a way to ease the logistical burden of the intra-Caricom traveller; that our carriers offer modern procedures that show respect for our community travellers.”

Note that this had nothing to do with whether or not one had an international airport. This, however, is something with which we can easily identify. We need to get on board with these recommendations. Let us approach our government and Caricom with this and give support to this call to regain our sanity, for that is what it amounts too. What currently exists is utter nonsense.

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