The normalization of US – Cuba relations is arguably the most monumental shift that has happened in the Caribbean in the last 5 years. Many are unsure of what to make of the move, and there are those within academia who think that the Caribbean governments are ill prepared for the possible impact of such normalizations. One thing’s for sure, everyone waits with baited breath to see what next will happen.
The conjecture thus far is that the impact will be largely felt within the tourism sector. The expectation throughout the Caribbean is that the steady stream of visitor arrivals from North America will see a sizeable reduction, as those visitors switch to Cuba; a cheaper and arguably more novel tourism experience. Even though the Cuban market has been open to European visitors since the 1990s, the embargo has prevented the windfall from the largest nearshore market Cuba could be catering to. The expectation is that not only will the visitor arrival numbers fall for other market segments but the overall cost per package will also fall to compensate for the reduced price of the Cuban experience.
Though tourism may be front and center there are concerns that agriculture is yet another area that will be impacted. Cuba has long been known for its tobacco and sugar cash crops. Both industries have been under siege in other Caribbean territories. Jamaica in particular has struggled with both. With sugar prices falling from the impact of global mechanization and tobacco under constant attack because of the impact on health and the government’s need for cash, the sector can ill afford assault on yet another front. The advent of another player within the space at such a difficult time could spell disaster for struggling national agricultural products.
The elephant in the room though is the impact on foreign direct investment. Businesses have long had a penchant for virgin territories and if ever there was one, Cuba would be it. Remaining fallow for the past 50 years, the Cuban economy provides a plethora of business opportunities. From the skilled labour force to the proximity, there are many pluses that would auger well for a business interested in finding ways of leveraging virgin benefit.
At the end of the day though, the charge is not to sit idly by and watch the waves of progress crash over us but find strategies and opportunities to maximize Caribbean synergies. Whether it be sounding the welcoming bells of Caribbean integration of another Caribbean player or sounding the warning klaxon that we cannot continue with a lax ‘business as usual’ attitude in the ever increasingly competitive global marketplace. We must assure ourselves that our fate cannot rest solely in someone else’s discussion.