The White House’s pivot on policy toward Havana has engendered much concern in the Cayman Islands about how a future deluge of American dollars and visitors into Cuba will impact our tiny territory’s economy, particularly in the tourism sector.
There are good reasons for that.
At the same time (and this may seem counterintuitive), the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has unleashed a flood of another sort, and in another direction, of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants, for whom, apparently, the prospects of an economic renaissance are too distant and dim to warrant their remaining in Cuba a single day longer.
There are good reasons for that, too.
Put succinctly, Cuba is a land of promise, and of peril.
At this point, nobody in Cayman (or, for that matter, Washington or Havana) can possibly predict the trajectory of U.S. relations with Cuba or plot the course of Cuba’s development, much less prepare for all the ramifications those unknowns may have on our fair islands. That, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be planning. Indeed, it might behoove many in Cayman’s business community to make Cuba their entrepreneurial obsession.
First, consider what Cuba is, and what it could be. Our controversial Communist neighbor to the north comprises more than 11 million people living in an insular area of more than 42,000 square miles, including some of the most beautiful, pristine and biologically diverse coastlines, plains and mountains in the world. White sand beaches, rugged terrain, historic architecture — Cuba presents tourists with all of those allurements, in addition to its distinctive culture and low prices; and, for Yankees, comes gift-wrapped in mystery, novelty and nostalgia for the pre-Castro era when Cuba was America’s “Pleasure Island.”
While Cuba has been crushed, financially speaking, over the decades by its domestic policies and the U.S.-imposed economic embargo, it would only require the most manageable of means (money and labor) to transform Cuba into a tourism mecca worthy of the nation’s appellation “La Perla de Las Antillas,” in English, “Pearl of the Antilles.”
Truly, Cuba is the unpolished jewel of the Caribbean.
If Cuba’s economic outlook is so rosy, though, then why have more than 75 Cuban migrants passed through or landed in Cayman Brac in the past week, as part of a recent Caribbean-wide surge in detected Cuban defectors?
Why — just when Cuba is purportedly on the cusp of an economic breakthrough — are so many risking their lives to unforgiving seas in ramshackle craft, for hopes that are uncertain at best?
The short answer is, though the hopes abroad are uncertain, at home they are nonexistent. Though Cayman cannot even “make weight” to compete in the same class with Cuba, much less go toe-to-toe for tourists, and despite all of Cuba’s apparent advantages of size and geography, Cayman (and other democracies) holds the ultimate trump card: personal freedom.
It is not the U.S. embargo, or any foreign policy, that has shaped the Cuba of today (for good and for bad); it is the hegemonic rule of Cuba’s Communist Party led by Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul.
As for the Cuba of tomorrow, that remains to be formed. One thing, though, is certain: Cuba will only be as “open” as its government allows it to be.