My Third Blog: UK and Cuba: What are we waiting for?

04/11/2016

Blog #3 – 04 November 2016

My Third Blog: UK and Cuba: What are we waiting for?

After Hurricane Matthew sped through the Caribbean and up the USA’s East Coast, slamming into Haiti, Cuba and several American States, it is useful to contrast the effects in the different places. Of course, first there must be sympathy and help to those affected. And beyond that there are some hard lessons to learn.

Haiti suffered massive losses and damage. Many thousands died and much infrastructure, homes and communal facilities lay in ruins. So they have on many past occasions and, although perhaps little could have withstood Matthew, the worst storm in 50 years, commentators were quick to identify some uncomfortable truths. The aid which had flowed in on past occasions had vanished in corruption and theft.

The efforts at improved governance painstakingly led by UN Missions – often in fear of their lives outside their compounds – plainly hasn’t led to strong or honest political machinery. Nor will it this time round. Haiti is mired in corruption and the unscrupulous have dipped in the pool. After the 2009 earthquake an appeal was made by a regional ‘business figure’ to The FA in England to pay for the broadcast rights for the 2010 FIFA World Cup to beam it into Haiti to raise the spirits of the disposed and desperate people. He, of course, owned those rights and could have provided coverage without massive payments. Internally and externally, as Haiti suffers, and the vultures pick the bones.

The contrast with Cuba could hardly be greater. A well-prepared population with robust organisation was moved out of harm’s way. Nobody died, not by good luck but by determined preparation. Nobody had a motive to graft. Nobody was in a position to gain from the suffering. And nobody did.

Cuba did, however, have to ask for aid to address the physical destruction. I doubt they wanted to ask. They are proud of what they do by their own efforts and industriousness. Nonetheless, on this occasion, with many thousands of homes flattened and damaged infrastructure they felt the need to ask. In a relatively normal nation with a well-educated population, why should that happen?

First, whatever anyone’s view of the political system, it was not a failure in governance or social organisation. Had it been, there would have been a harrowing death toll. Loss of life didn’t happen.

Second, the country has been cut off from modern trade for about 60 years. No amount of make do and mend can build a pool of wealth which can be mobilised in these circumstances. The US blockade has had an impact visible to whoever travels in Cuba. It will take a long time and some rigorous initiatives to overcome this imposed, long-term disadvantage. Sadly, while the USA imposed the blockade, most other advanced economies took no such decision, yet fell in lock-step with America. The EU has been vehemently against the blockade, yet has until recently done little. The fear of American reprisals, as a result of banking issues unlinked to Cuba, has meant that UK banks are now way behind American businesses in recalibrating their relationship with Cuba.

The timidity of UK retail banking defies belief. So it is time for them to wake up to new realities. If we are to be a global trading nation Post-Brexit we had better learn to walk the walk. There’s been serious UK government encouragement. Philip Hammond became the first UK Foreign Secretary to visit Cuba officially since the 1959 revolution. He wanted to ‘forge new links’ with the country. He looked for cooperation agreements in finance, education, energy and culture in a visit shortly after that of President Obama (and the Rolling Stones). Whatever the differences in the political outlook are, he and Raul Castro set in motion indelible changes between the UK and Cuba.

In my next post I’d like to touch on the changes agreed between Cuba and America. In conclusion, I wonder why the UK lags behind the USA and the leadership of its own Foreign Secretary. Not the best signal of our global ambition. And all the more surprising to those of us who talk day-to-day with ambitious businesses which understand potential.