“Cuba: Obama’s Caribbean Legacy, Jamaica’s Bane — Joe Issa?”

Businessman Joe Issa has said that Cuba will be United States President Barak Obama’s legacy in the Caribbean, and while welcoming the new relations between the true countries he cautions Jamaica against allowing its ally to become its bane by rising to the anticipated competition.

Joseph “Joey” Issa Founder Cool Group of Companies

Never before, has there been so much talk about Cuba for the right reason, since little known Obama took over the presidency of the United States, albeit late in the day, and ‘made back’ with Havana after a 50-year embargo that isolated the Caribbean island from trading nations.

And although full removal of the trading restrictions lies ultimately with Congress, the resumption of diplomat relations severed over half a century ago is beginning to attract foreign people and capital to Cuba, the thought of which brought shivers to neighbouring territories such as Jamaica when the ease was first announced in December 2014.

So, even as Jamaica welcomes the new relations between the US and Cuba, it remains concerned about the competition this will bring to its main export earner, Tourism and in particular, for American tourists, its largest market, once the ban on pleasure visits to Cuba is lifted.

“Despite the skepticism the New US/Cuba relations could benefit Jamaica,” Cool Corp executive chairman told the North Coast Times newspaper last February.

Issa, who has 15 years’ experience in the tourism industry running his parents’ suite of all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica and Cuba, was optimistic and called for preparation to be made to secure benefits. His caveat, however, was that any benefits to Jamaica would rest on it strengthening its products, including tourism.

“I think Jamaica can withstand the competition that will arise from the opening up of Cuba to the Americans, one of our largest market for anything Jamaican,” Issa told the newspaper, adding, “Jamaica has a lot to offer…we could even benefit from the increased traffic to the region, if we strengthen our product, and it’s not just the tourism product.”

In a broadcast on December 17, 2014 President Barack Obama announced a package of measures that will normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. These include re-opening an embassy in the Cuban capital Havana; undertaking high-level exchanges and visits between the governments; and lifting travel bans to Cuba for family visits, official US government business and educational activities.

In addition, Americans who are licensed to travel to Cuba can return home with $400 worth of goods, which include tobacco and alcohol products with a combined value of less than $100, signaling the lifting of the long-standing ban on the importation of Cuban cigars, albeit on a limited scale. 
Also, under the new dispensation remittances to Cubans will increase to $2,000 per quarter, from $500, but the full lift of the embargo on Cuba is out of President Obama’s hands and in Congress’, which he hopes will take that step, even as the lawmakers remain divided on the issue, with some calling for reform in Cuba’s political system and improvement in its human rights record, according to The Gleaner article.

Since the renewal of relations with the US, Cuba has had record growth in tourism last year, with over 3.5 million tourists visiting the Spanish speaking Caribbean island, an increase of 17.3 per cent compared to the previous period. Of the visitors, 1.3 million were Canadians and 161,000 Americans, representing a 76.6 per cent growth over 2014 and the fastest growing market.

Dutch food and cosmetics giant Unilever is believed to be eyeing Cuba for entry by next year. The Chinese government is said to have authorised a joint venture with state firm Intersuchel to be named Unilever-Suchel SA. The project will involve building a plant in the mega port of Mariel, 45 kilometres (30 miles) west of Havana. The investment is said to worth about US$35 million.

Meanwhile, the planned expansion and renovation of the port of Santiago de Cuba, in Cuba’s second largest city, is said to be on track. The project, which will start in the latter half of this year is said to be facilitated by a US$100 million line of credit from the Chinese government.