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Charles: New approach needed to tackle Cuban embargo issue

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 18, 2012    

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OPPOSITION Member of Parliament (MP) Pearnel Charles has called for a new approach in pressuring the United States of America to remove the decades-old economic embargo it has imposed on Communist Cuba.

The House of Representatives has, for the past three years, passed motions in support of Cuba’s resolution tabled in the United Nation’s General Assembly calling for an end to the blockade.” Last year, Jamaica and 185 other UN member states voted in favour of the resolution.

But speaking on the resolution brought once again by Government MP Anthony Hylton (Western St Andrew), Charles said another tactic was needed.

“For years we have been passing resolutions in this House about Cuba but nothing has happened, there have been some adjustments by the Cuban government and the American government but the real adjustment we are looking for is a removal of the embargo. It says to me that having passed resolutions for several years and nothing has happened, should we be looking at other ways?” Charles told the House of Representatives during its sitting at Gordon House in downtown Kingston.

The veteran MP wanted to know whether Jamaica has decided to canvass the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and other countries and lead a proper delegation to the US on the matter.

“Just passing resolutions where some people curse the American government and vilify them is not going to help. I am suggesting that the resolution must now say to the Government of Jamaica seek to lead a delegation on behalf of Caricom and other countries to the American government, dialogue is the way. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs could initiate this delegation,” Charles said.

“The Cuban government has done a lot for the people of Jamaica in agriculture, health and technology. For 50 years we have been living as a free country and Cuba has been living in bondage... yet Cuba has done so much more,” he added.

Mining and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell agreed that while “there has been some marginal progress it is clearly not enough”.

“In just a few weeks the United States will elect a new president and we hope and urge whoever the eventual winner, that the issues related to Cuba will be high on the agenda as it specifically relates to the removal of the blockade and the removal of the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Paulwell said. He noted that this should also involve the freeing of the five Cuban heroes who were incarcerated in the US 1998 on terrorism charges. One has since been freed but is not allowed to return to his country permanently until 2014.

“We call for the release of all five prisoners and for their safe and swift return to Cuba,” Paulwell said, noting that while Cuba has suffered under the embargo it has still managed to extend a helping hand to others in several different areas, including medicine and technology.

Also speaking on the issue, the Opposition’s Dr Kenneth Baugh said the stand-off spelt disaster for the global community if not resolved.

“It is important to note that we do have close relations with both these countries. Cuba is one of our closest neighbours and this embargo on Cuba has significance for us... The world has moved on from the 1960s and ’70s, this embargo is a remnant of the past when the world was polarised by ideologies, we have moved on. This world is a global community, we are interconnected and interdependent and if we do not find a formula for co-operation in many areas then the world is doomed,” Dr Baugh said.

Only this year the United States Government imposed a $619-million fine on the Dutch Bank ING for carrying out transactions with Cuba in United States dollars — the highest fine ever imposed on a foreign bank for doing business with Cuba.

Hylton, making his call against the background that “the blockade is a violation of international law and is contrary to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter” among other things, urged the Government to throw its weight behind dialogue between the super power and Cuba towards the ending of the blockade.

Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica Yuri Gala Lopez was on hand Tuesday during debate on the resolution, which was unanimously carried.

As a result of the embargo, the use of the American dollar in Cuba's international transactions is prohibited so Cubans cannot export and import products and services to or from the United States. Cubans are not allowed to have US dollar accounts in banks of third party countries, neither are they allowed to access drugs for treatment once they are manufactured in the US or if such drugs contain any material from the US.

Until 2009, a travel ban remained in place with strict rules on the number of visits by Cuban-Americans to the Caribbean country and restrictions on how much money expatriate family members could send home. But that year, US President Barack Obama relaxed the ban, allowing Cuban-Americans to travel freely.

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