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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Africa Could Bring Cuba and Obama Closer

By Circles Robinson

Obama’s election has opened a window of hope in the world. In Cuba, the hope is for a semblance of normalization in US-Cuba relations. The task is formidable with five decades of inertia propping up an outmoded policy of hostility and blockade.

Finding a common ground to get beyond the animosity could be a key step towards easing tensions.

Attention will be focused come January on the Obama campaign promise to allow Cuban-Americans to travel freely to the island and send remittances to their relatives; many analysts feel that these will become reality during his first months in office.

Not far behind will be the growing demand of US citizen’s rights groups to scrap the travel ban on Cuba all together and the plea from business people to loosen trade sanctions and provide opportunities for US farmers and exporters.

Those Congress people and citizen groups seeking broader change in US-Cuba policy, with an eye on totally eliminating the US blockade, will be measuring their strength in the new legislature and proceeding accordingly.

One factor that makes any decisions a little easier for Obama is that he won the state of Florida, and would still have taken the presidency without it. This fact will lessen the influence of the old guard Miami - Cuban crowd that has wielded disproportionate clout in shaping US foreign policy.

On the other hand, Barack Obama needs to kick start a US economy heading into the throes of recession. He says that creating jobs is top priority and there probably is no quicker way to do so in Florida than by lifting the blockade against Cuba. Travel agencies, food and building material companies, the entertainment industry, convention centers, shipping companies, importers etc. would be some of the areas where long-term jobs could be created in a relatively short period.


Far from the Congressional arena, another strategy for improving longstanding poor relations could be found many thousands of miles away on the African continent.

It’s logical to think that Africa will receive far greater attention under the Obama presidency than it has under previous administrations, which generally assigned the continent a very low priority.

Likewise, there is no other country in the Western Hemisphere that dedicates more resources to assisting impoverished African nations than, yes, surprise, Cuba, which has been providing doctors, educators, scholarships and sports trainers for decades.

HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention is one of the areas where the Cubans have helped out, but the scope of the problem is beyond their capacity to go it alone.

Speaking at the United Nations on June 25, 2001, Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, publicly offered to send 4,000 Cuban doctors and health personnel to create the necessary infrastructure to treat millions of persons and to train a large number of local specialists in HIV/AIDS, including nurses and health technicians.

Cuba also offered to provide sufficient professors to establish 20 medical schools, with a staff of Cuban teachers, selected from among the doctors working in those countries.

The island was ready to provide diagnostic equipment and kits necessary for basic prevention programs and follow up and anti-retroviral treatment for 30,000 patients.

The only hitch was obtaining what Cuba doesn’t possess and couldn’t buy.

“All it would take is for the international community to provide the raw materials for the medicines, the equipment and material resources for these products and services. Cuba would not obtain any profits, and would pay salaries in its national currency, thus taking on the most expensive part for international health agencies, as well as the most difficult part, which is to ensure that the professionals are prepared and ready to begin their work,” Lage told the UN.

What could have been an amazing humanitarian undertaking never took place. The Cuban offer went unanswered because of the blockade and uncaring politics.

Now with Barack Obama in the White House, and an ear predictably more sensitive to Africa and African-Americans, the offer should be restated and reconsidered. If the deal gelled a lot of people would benefit, and Cuba and the US would be a new footing.


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