Friday, 12 November 2010 00:00
When Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959 the relations between the United States and Cuba changed dramatically. Now, for some 51 years, there are few connections between the countries. And after the Cuban missile crisis things got even worse.
As Counsel to Senator Kenneth B. Keating (R, NY) I will never forget going to Cuba (Guantanamo Naval Base) in 1961. That started Senator Keating’s involvement with the missile crisis. There was no doubt that missile bases were being constructed in November of 1961, but just like Iraq, our intelligence was flawed. The reality did not hit home until ten months later.
While Fidel Castro, at 84 years of age, is alive, there are serious hidden questions about his health. Fidel’s brother, Raul, now heads the country. It remains, for all practical purposes, a dictatorship with hundreds of thousands fleeing the country after 1959.
With a population of some 11.5 million, Cuba is geographically slightly smaller than Pennsylvania. Cuba has a $112 billion GDP with a per capita GDP of around $9.7 thousand – compared to our GDP of $46 thousand per capita.
Currently under the radar screen, there are two significant issues relating to our relations with Cuba which will undoubtedly surface in the next two years.
First, there will be a growing debate about travel restrictions to and from Cuba to the United States. Prior to 1959, Cuba was a winter retreat for many Americans. The ability to visit Cuba today does not exist. There is little doubt that the travel restrictions have deeply hurt the Cuban economy. The restrictions have also hurt Cubans in the United States who are restricted from visiting relatives still living in Cuba. As a result, you can believe that the issue of travel between the United States and Cuba will soon be on the table for a full discussion.
The next area relates to trade between both countries. While there are significant restrictions on trade, the statistics are very interesting. The United States exports around $532 million of mostly agricultural products to Cuba – chicken, wheat, corn and soybeans. That is truly a significant figure.
At the same time there are no exports from Cuba to the United States.
As Raul and Fidel Castro age, there are real questions for Cubans. Will the communist form of dictatorship fade away with the passing of the Castro brothers. Recently, Fidel Castro told an American journalist, “The Cuban model doesn’t ever work for me anymore.” Will democracy come to the forefront in Cuba? When will there be real dialogue between the United States and Cuba? These questions and the restrictions on trade and travel will soon be on the table as much as healthcare, government budgets and the Arizona immigration law. Stay tuned.