By Eileen Sosin (Progreso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES — It’s official: as of today, Cuba is off the US list of “countries that sponsor terrorism.” After the 45 days required since Congress received President Obama’s request to remove the island from the “blacklist,” we’re talking about an accomplished fact.
What consequences will this measure have? How much will it accelerate the establishment of “normal” diplomatic relations with the United States? How does it influence Cuba’s insertion into the global economy? Several Cuban academics offer their views on the subject.
“First of all, Cuba should never have appeared on that list as a state that sponsors terrorism,” said José Luis Perelló, researcher and a faculty member at the University of Havana’s Tourism School.
“To many markets that supply tourism and to their travel agents it is ‘uncomfortable’ to negotiate tour packages for a destination that appears on such a list.
“That also damages Cuba’s tourism image and its ability to negotiate with important international hotel-and-leisure chains. Cuba’s exclusion from that list reverts those negative impacts.
“The announcement of the intention to reestablish diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, to open embassies and remove Cuba from the list of sponsors of terrorism has resulted in a dizzying growth of international tourism toward the island.
“Between January and May, 1.5 million international visitors have come to Cuba. And not only from the United States, whose flow of travelers has increased 36 percent so far this year, but also Germany (22 percent), France (25 percent), the United Kingdom (26 percent), and Spain (16 percent), to mention just a few.
“This is also an opportunity for the integration of tourism in the Caribbean. Now is the turn of the small island states to draw up strategies for multiple-destination packages, with new ferry routes and the possibility of yachting. In the cruise ship industry the opportunities and the potential for integration will be extraordinary.
“For the country to develop tourism it will need new investments in support infrastructures; the modernization of ports and marinas; the expansion of airports and the construction of new ones; the repair of roadways and the improvement of land transportation.
“Such investments demand large sums of money, which are only possible through international financial institutions from which Cuba has been excluded, among other reasons because it appeared on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
“What’s needed is for the White House to begin a review of the Congressional rules that condition Cuba’s relation with international financial institutions. The legislation allows a dispensation if the President determines that [such a review] benefits the interests of the United States and so informs the Congress.”
“For Cuba to be off of the list of State sponsors of terrorism, and after the announcement by both governments about a normalization of diplomatic relations, this is a good sign, not only for U.S. business people but also for possible U.S. investors who may want to participate in the economic opening the country is conducting,” says Omar Everleny, a professor and researcher at the Center of Studies of the Cuban Economy (CEEC).
“The investment communities of other countries — especially European and Latin American — fear that they may be displaced from the Cuban market in the long run, so in the past four months they’ve increased their aggressiveness when submitting proposals that may be attractive for the Cuban government.
“So, after the Dec. 17 announcement, more than 300 investment proposals have come to the Office of the Mariel Special Development Zone. There are even proposals from the United States, which still cannot be materialized.
“Banks or financial institutions will be less fearful of seeking information about Cuba’s national reality, since Cuba will be a more ‘normal’ country in terms of its economic interests [The banks] can now begin to study the potential they can provide to U.S. business.
“What cannot be overlooked is that any significant answers from business groups still cannot be put into action, because all economic decisions on Cuba have been codified in a legal and juridical framework. They are laws that can be reversed only by the U.S. Congress.
“That’s why it is important to generate strong lobbying by the interests of the big U.S. corporations or companies that understand the benefits of the new market opening before them.”
“First we need to say that Cuba is being removed from a list on which it should never have been placed. It’s a question of basic justice,” says Dalia González, professor and researcher at the Center for Hemispheric and U.S. Studies (CEHSEU).
“Cuba’s designation had more to do with political motivations than with any real cause. In fact, the latest annual report by the U.S. State Department, published April 30, 2014, admitted, as in past occasions, that ‘there is no information that the Cuban government has supplied arms or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.’
“Beyond that, this is a list that shouldn’t even exist. Who gave the U.S. State Department the right to decide what country is terrorist and punish it for that?
“Once a state is designated as a sponsor of terrorism, the consequences are symbolic as well as economic. This is part of the demonization of a country and that’s no small matter. For Obama, even, it would make it more difficult to explain that he wants to normalize relations with a country that the U.S. itself considers a sponsor of terrorism.
“In practical terms, the long-awaited decision by the U.S. president eliminates one of the main obstacles for the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between both countries.
“Being on the list implies legal restrictions regarding exports, trade, development aid, credits and such. In the case of Cuba, almost the entire economic cost of being on the list is part of the blockade.
“The result is that the island has endured a dual hounding — one is the harassment on its financial transactions worldwide and the ensuing refusal of banks to work with Cuba for fear of sanctions from Washington; the other is the imposition of multimillion-dollar fines to those banks.
“That situation explains why no banks dared to provide financial services to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.
“In addition, members of the U.S. Congress who are opposed to Cuba have submitted bills against the countries on the list, so as to affect Cuba through decantation and improve the chances of success for their proposals.
“Because Cuba will no longer be seen as an alleged ‘threat,’ that could facilitate Congressional debates over the blockade and deny arguments to those who advocate maintaining it.