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The world has changed and is changing

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During the presentations on the 2016 Budget, (one cannot call it a debate in the absence of the Opposition), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Louis Straker made a telling comment which warrants some reflection. In his presentation to the House of Assembly, Sir Louis commented on the need for clear vision and foresight on the part of the leadership of any country.{{more}}

Relating his comment to experiences in the field of foreign policy, the Foreign Minister recalled the loud outcry in some quarters here when, after taking office in 2001, he and Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves made a visit to Cuba and were welcomed by the Cuban government and people. There were those, both in the official Opposition, as well as others not happy with the political philosophy and outlook of the new government who were up in arms.

Not only was the old and discredited anti-communist bogey invoked, but the visit was actually portrayed by Gonsalves’ detractors as being inimical to our national interests, as an act which would have negative repercussions on this country’s relations with its “traditional partners”.

One remembers the infamous words used to whip up fear among Vincentians over this supposedly “reckless” initiative — “What would the US say?”

Well, as events have proven, that visit has in no way affected US/SVG relations, as is borne out by developments since then. What it did is to set in train the consolidation of a relationship which has been of great benefit to St Vincent and the Grenadines and to its people as a whole. We need not outline those obvious benefits here, but the Argyle International Airport, the “Vision now” programme and selfless assistance, particularly in the fields of education and health, bear testimony.

However Sir Louis’ point goes further than that, for he pointed to the announcement by US President Barack Obama, that he, a sitting president of the United States, a country which officially still considers Cuba an enemy, is to make a visit to that country next month. The announcement is the latest in a number of measures taken by the Obama administration to improve and normalize relations between the two neighbouring states.

Obama’s planned visit to Cuba does not in any way mean that he has become a dreaded “communist” or that he is supportive of the domestic policies of the Cuban government. Even in making the announcement, the White House reiterated its serious reservations on the issue of human rights in Cuba. President Obama plans to meet with Cuban dissidents, opponents of the Cuban government during his visit.

While there are matters which need Congressional approval, such as the lifting of the 55-year-old economic blockade, there are actions within the power of the Obama administration which, in spite of Cuban demands, have not been pursued by the president. These include putting an end to the funding of dissidents, stopping hostile radio and television broadcasts, and the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy, which encourages illegal migration and has cost many lives. Clearly, President Obama is not any puppet of the Cuban government, if all these are taken into consideration.

The point is that in today’s world, one has to be realistic; the world is not of our creation and all kinds of people live in it. States are free to pursue their own policies, choose their socio-political and economic systems and equally free to have varying views on such policies. But it is important for world peace and development that we live in harmony, respect the right of others to differ on their approaches to socio-economic development.

President Obama is a realist. Fifteen years after our own Prime Minister made the Havana visit, he is now to follow. Does that not say something about vision, bold and enlightened leadership? It is time that we emerge from behind the old “Iron Curtains” and realize that the world has changed, and is changing. We, too, must do so, or perish.

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