September 29, 2016

Cuba…

…and “prior claims”
Obama evidently intends to ensure that whoever enters the White House next January – especially if it’s the Republicans with Trump at its helm – won’t be able to reverse the normalisation of relations with Cuba. If you look at that relationship, you have to wonder why the US would allow such a bit player – and that’s all Cuba is compared to it – to get so much under its skin. But then again an American President (Reagan) invaded 132-sq mile Grenada with its less than 100,000 population for being a threat! Go figure!
But back to the “normalisation”. The biggest fly in the ointment to complete normalisation will be the “prior claims” made subsequent to Castro’s nationalisation and expropriation of American property back in 1960. American companies owned sugar plantations, oil refineries, shipping companies, hotels (including a Hilton), casinos, houses, cars, land, etc, etc. In fact, the American justification for the embargo it slapped on Cuba rests mainly on these claims. For years there have been several initiatives – some launched by get-rich shysters, but others like Exxon’s and Hilton’s – legit.
Back in 1964, the US created a “Foreign Claims Settlement Commission” within its Justice Department and evaluated, recorded and vowed to collect on the various claims (5913 of them) which it valued at US$1.9B. Factoring for inflation, these claims would be worth about US$8B today. Now Cuba’s never denied it owes compensation on the claims – even though it could’ve questioned the deals through which most of the assets were acquired. The then Cuban dictatorships were supported by the US Government, which turned a blind eye to the economic and physical raping of Cuba – especially by the Mafia.
The Cuban retort to the “prior claims” question has been to issue a counter claim for the more than US$100B it calculated it’s lost since 1960 because of the American embargo – which even US allies at the UN have demanded for years be removed. Since the State Department has jurisdiction over the settlement of the claims, if Obama doesn’t want to saddle Cuba with the ball-and-chain of “prior claims”, it should proceed to work out a settlement that’s favourable to both sides.
For Cuba’s economic development – which is heading ineluctably in a capitalist direction – the Government wouldn’t want to have liens hanging over so many assets. They will definitely stifle investment. On the other hand, there is no way Cuba can fork out US$8B.
Maybe as the IMF does with ‘bad loans’, a steep discount could be worked out – like 4 cents to the dollar?
And Cuba floats bonds to pay it off?

…and the Caribbean
Of recent, Foreign Minister Greenidge – who’d rather be leader of the PNC and consequently President – has been rather quiet. What with all the brouhaha over the economy (who’s steering the ship?) and salaries and suchlike, you’d think he’d be weighing in more often. But anyhow he just broke his (vow of?) silence…to claim the US-Cuban thaw will be good for us in the Caribbean? It might’ve been better if he’d stayed quiet.
First of all, because of the romanticisation of the American presence in Cuba – for the elite, think Hemmingway; for the rest, think the Mafia of the “Godfather II”, casinos and Meyer Lansky – the island looms large in their collective imagination. If for nothing else there will be another (more benign) landing of tourists at the Bay of Pigs who’ll move on to ogle all those “finned” cars from the fifties. Say goodbye to a rebirth of US tourism to “our” Caribbean.
Then there are the business investments – where Cuba’s certain to become the next “emerging market”.
Say goodbye to a resurgence of a Caribbean Basin Initiative.

…and Fidel
Even though Obama genuflected to the American right-wing yahoos by not meeting Fidel, the latter’s 1953 prediction that “history will absolve me” was reinforced by the visit.

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