The recent landmark announcement by America that it was going to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba and formally re-establish links with the Island has led to wave of new international confidence and investment in the once isolated communist state, leading to a growing opinion in some quarters that the Island will eventually be converted into a more ‘westernised’ nation and economy.
Since Barack Obama’s announcement, a number of US companies have announced that they will expand their operations and investment into Cuba. American plant companies General Electric and Caterpillar have both signed new procurement deals with the Cuban government, while on the consumer side hotel chains including Marriott and Radisson Blu, as well as service companies such as PayPal, have all announced that they plan to sell their products and services within the country.
Tensions, however, do remain. In a recent joint press conference with Cuban president Raul Castro held during Obama’s visit to Havana in in March this year (the first such visit by an American president for nearly a century), the two politicians exchanged claim and counter-claim about issues such as Cuba’s record on human rights when quizzed by reporters, prompting Castro to claim:
Did you ask if we have political prisoners? Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them directly. Give me a name or names … It is not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general.
Such comments were rapidly responded to by human rights campaigners, who published their own lists of political prisoners and accused the Castro regime of detaining 8,000 people for political reasons last year alone. The US congress has also remained sceptical of further engagement with Havana, with many congressmen remaining resistant to lifting the 50 year old blockade. Although, rising demand from US exporters small and large means that opposition in some states is becoming increasingly hard to justify.
For former Cuban president Fidel Castro, it would seem that the US remains too great a threat to the communist state established by the revolution of 1959. In a scathing open letter titled ‘Brother Obama’, published in Cuban state media soon after the US president’s historic state visit, he condemned Obama for developing ‘theories about Cuban politics’ and insisted that the Island state was ‘capable of producing the food and material wealth that we need with the work and intelligence of our people’ without the intervention of US investors.
How open and ‘westernised’ Cuba will become very much depends on the extent to which it is prepared to adapt from its traditional values, and whether US antipathy related to the history between Havana and the US can be overcome. The first high level talks between the country in over a generation already indicate that the playing field has shifted significantly, but whether Cuba can change completely remains to be seen.