The Limey has a related article to my previous post about Cuba which is worth a read.
Phil raises some good issues to think about, ones I'd considered in reaching my assessment that this Cuban relationship is damaging to Bermuda.
The Limey questions whether a government has any business telling its citizens, or someone else's, who to do business with (although the PLP are with the taxi GPS issue). I would agree with Phil on this, governments don't generally have a place doing this, although I can think of exceptions (eg. wartime scenarios). Bermudians have been doing business in Cuba for years, without much fanfare. Bermuda Island Cruises is the most notable example
I take issue with 'official" governmental relations with a country like Cuba who actively oppresses its people and denies them basic human rights. We don't have official relations with the Russian Federation and China, the examples Phil cites. In fact, we don't have official relations with anyone, because we don't do foreign relations - the UK does it on our behalf. So if you were to pick your first country to have 'official' relations with why would you pick Cuba? If you were the PLP, who argued in the past to ban relationships with South Africa, why would you get friendly with Fidel who has a knack for oppressing Cubans of African descent in particular? The romanticized image of Cuba that many of the socialist leaners in the PLP still retain is clouding their judgment here.
I also take issue with the increase in private business ventures and prospective ones that have occurred after we cemented ties with Cuba. The cultural initiative has clearly laid the path for smoother business relations, which can only occur with the approval of the Cuban Government. Cuba gets an air of legitimacy internationally by having relations with a great place like Bermuda, the quid pro quo being preferential business opportunties for Bermudians.
Are smoother business interests in Cuba worth allowing ourselves to be used for PR purposes and alienate our hugely important economic partner.?
Cuba isn’t a country where you conduct normal business to business transactions. You're doing business essentially with a government endorsed entity. That's why it starts to look really bad when one of our MPs is among the first to benefit after official relations occur. It also looks bad when the Transport Minister is excitedly hailing a flight to Cuba by one of his backbenchers, which promises at best marginal economic value (landing fees) to Bermuda. Perhaps someone can explain to me how a Spanish tourist to Cuba and Bermuda are the same market segment. They're not. Cuba attracts tourists looking for cheap, high entertainment (and sex tourists, but that's a whole other story) holidays, the antithesis of what Bermuda offers, and Spain isn't exactly a key market for us.
Then there's the issue of whether we should conduct our affairs by what the US deems appropriate. Certainly you don't take orders from another country, but you also don't do things that you know aggravate your long-standing friends who have been an integral part of your success. The departed US Consul couldn't have been much clearer in raising the flag that our actions were being noticed by the US and could have ramifications.
The US is particularly sensitive right now with the fallout from the Iraq war and a pending election. Much of it is self-inflicted because of their heavy-handedness and loss of credibility over Iraq, but when our now Deputy Premier was ridiculing the US President at a public event for owning two books, both colouring books, you just wonder what we're thinking. I'm no fan of the current US President - but our elected leaders have a responsibility to act respectfully towards other elected leaders. It's not even a responsibility, it’s common courtesy and respect. The Premier whines about the UK respecting us but we haven't quite set a tone to follow.
Moving on to the likelihood of the US following through on its threats to punish allies who are engaging Cuba. Some would argue that this isn't going to happen, it's just political rhetoric, ‘campaigning’ as the Premier would put it. I for one, have no desire to find out. We blew up tourism because we became complacent and figured we'd always have it easy, I don't for a second take for granted our favourable treatment by the US in other areas.
We had to work hard to keep good relations in place and even try and get further benefits. It takes much longer to build up trust than to lose it. We had a 'special relationship' with the US, but have let that slip over the past few years. Not only have we let that special relationship wane with our flirting with Caricom, but we're now thumbing our nose at them, as if we have some clout to do this!
It's an amazing act of arrogance and recklessness to put some very important perks like customs pre-clearance and non-visa travel at risk over a frivilous 'cultural' agreement.
We can get righteous about having to live by a failed 40 year American policy towards Cuba, driven by domestic political pandering, or we can ask what serves our interests best. If we think for a second that we have, or will ever have for that matter, influence on the world stage or on US policy we're fooling ourselves. That's the dream of many independence advocates, Bermuda can step onto the world stage. Give me a break!
We are a tiny, insignificant and easily damaged island of 60,000 who have it great, both by some smart policy decisions, some good fortune (sometimes as a result of others misfortune ie. Sept 11) and staying below the radar and not drawing attention to ourselves.
Let's not jeopardize our future over some misguided desire to create cultural initiatives and make a few bucks with a brutally oppressive regime like Cuba.