Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Will Castro's Exit Mean for the Rest of the Carribean?

Although not totally unexpected, Fidel Castro’s decision not to remain at the helm of government in Cuba resulted in widespread discussions in the Caribbean. Many thought he would die in power, especially since his recent bout of ill-health.

Castro is widely admired by many in the Caribbean. It is not uncommon to hear the man in the streets of Jamaica wishing that he was in charge of the country even for a year. Many believed that under his rule crime would be greatly reduced.

The man who has led his country for almost fifty years must be admired for his tenacity whether you love him or hate him.

It is now widely believed that with the end of an era, Cuba will eventually be taken on the path to democracy and this may spell the end of the lucrative tourism industry in many islands.

It is a known fact that if Cuba can develop ties with the USA and therefore enable free travel to the island many vacationers will travel there to enjoy it’s unspoilt beauty. In addition, the novelty of the destination and curiosity of Americans will result in even more visitors opting to visit. Many cruise lines are excited and are itching for the opportunity to make Cuba a port of call. All of this will obviously impact the tourism product of islands such as Jamaica and The Bahamas.

Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Bahamas, Brent Symonette was quoted in the Bahamas Journal stating ‘it is much too early to say what will be the impact of Cuba’s economy opening up on the country’s tourism.’

Others believe that the opening up of Cuba will not have a negative impact on the region’s tourism product. As a matter of fact, spokesperson for Agenda Cuba, Mickey Garrote said in regards to the possible negative impact, “No, quite the contrary, if Cuba does in fact open up, it would be beneficial to everyone.”

Caribbean Economy
Will a Castro-free Cuba impact negatively on the economy of its Caribbean neighbors? Only time will tell, but many business people are already preparing for the worst – even if it is not just around the corner. However, with his younger brother, 76-year old Raul Castro taking over the leadership of the country, change is not assured – Raul will no doubt continue his brother’s legacy.

It is felt that if democracy comes to the communist state, eventually many businesses will move in to capitalize on the untapped resources of this island of 11 million people.

Who is Raul Castro?
Little is known of the man who has ruled beside his brother for so many years. Almost all Caribbean leaders while paying glowing tributes to the Fidel Castro and the end of an era have stated that they intend to remain on friendly terms with Cuba; in essence with Raul Castro.

Everyone knows who Fidel Castro is, but little is known of his brother, 76-year old Raul who was thrust into the limelight in 2006 when he temporarily took over from his ailing big brother. Raul was always a rebel and a staunch socialist from his youth. It is believed that he was responsible for introducing his brother to the noted revolutionary, Che Guevara.

In 2006 when Fidel Castro handed power temporarily to Raul Castro, he is reported to have said, “I am not used to making frequent appearances in public, except at times when it is required…I have always been discreet, that is my way, and in passing I will clarify that I am thinking of continuing in that way.” (Wikipedia)

One is left to wonder if Raul Castro, lacking his brother’s personality will be able to enamor the Caribbean community equally. Personally, I doubt it – when people in the Caribbean think of Cuba they will always equate the country with the bearded giant most of us grew up hearing and seeing.

Share your views – will a Castro free Cuba see a change in Cuba-Caribbean relations and a downturn of the already struggling economies of many of her neighbors?

-Jessica McCurdy Crooks

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