Cuba, the island nation 90 miles south of the Florida Keys, is truly a work in progress. The last 120 years is rich with a constant state of change and activity. The United States played an important role in its independence. The liberation came via the Spanish American War. We claimed serious concern over the word that Spain was performing brutality on their colony known as Cuba – mainly against recently emancipated slaves. So, in March, 1898 we attacked using the excuse of Spanish agents sinking our naval ship Maine. While attacking Spanish troops in Cuba we decided to take many other colonies from them. Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico all fell along with Cuba. It was the biggest land grab by our nation since the Mexican American War. It ended in August, 1898 – all in six months.
They all became territories of the United States. There was even talk of making Cuba a new state to our nation. Southern politicians frowned on this idea as Cuba had a significant Black population who felt empowered. Thus, Cuba became an independent state. It quickly evolved into a form of communist nation. This was ended with US involvement. Cuba became governed by manipulating tyrants. They became friendly with US organized crime who invested in casinos and racketeering on the island nation.
Communism would return in 1959 under a revolution led by Fidel Castro. The casinos, hotels and other holdings were seized from the racketeers who are still smarting from this. They were rich holdings and lobbying against the Castro regime became intense. Our CIA organized a failed attempt at invading Cuba by expatriates living in Florida. Fearing more and more successful invasions, Cuba began to embrace the Soviet Union as a big brother. The Soviet Union even moved nuclear missiles onto the Island and pointed them at US cities. The crises ended with the Soviets extracting their missiles and the US moving their missiles that were pointing at Soviet cities from Turkey. Also, the threats of invading Cuba went away.
Castro would allow many disgruntled Cubans to leave and immigrate into the United States. We can remember the great Mariel boat journey by many thousands of Cubans, some prisoners, heading to the Florida coast. Collectively, many became prosperous US citizens and established a strong business class amongst them. Meanwhile, Cuba started improving its quality of life with much improvement in its healthcare delivery system, education and tourism. Cuba military would travel to African nations and work on fighting against colonialists and other revolutions. Cuban engineers are some of the best in the world. They build dams, bridges, hotels, etc. throughout the world. Cuba lost its greatest economic support when the Soviet Union fell. The new Russia cut off all the billions of dollars in aid it would annually give.
With the Sugar Daddy relationship with the old Soviet Union now gone, Cuba is slowly drifting to a capitalistic society. Tourism has mushroomed as European investors have built nearly 100 resort hotels along the Cuban shoreline. Affluent tourists now consider the beautiful island nation as a main destination. The outside money coming in is immense. The average Cuban worker is considered very productive. I have personally seen Cuban construction companies working in downtown Paris. They proliferate Spain, Vietnam, North Africa, the Caribbean and other places in the world.
One of the biggest developments is the Cuban government allowing their citizens to start their own businesses and to own and sell property. This excites Cuban Americans. They send money home to their relatives so they can start businesses, buy and sell land via real estate ventures. Cuban Americans are sending over $1 billion per year in investments. This is changing the economic landscape of the nation. Also, rich nations like China and Brazil are now considering Cuba as a place for good investment. Cubans who would formerly just tolerate tourists are now engaging tourists by selling them products and serving them in their own restaurants. New money is becoming a fact of life on this island nation.
Brazil along with its largest construction company, Olderbrecht, is investing $1 billion in the upcoming Port of Mariel. This will become a trading hub for Cuba. Imagine a center of commerce in the Caribbean. The nation has a strong professional class with a working class loaded with exceptional skill sets. It’s a great combination and a formula for success. The National Black Chamber of Commerce will be taking a Trade Mission to Cuba later this year.
Finally, the Organization of American States (OAS) is demanding that the United States no longer ban Cuba from its quadrennial conferences. The next conference is in 2015 and they have told the United States that Cuba will be invited with or without US approval. Yes, it’s a new day and Cuba is ready to roll.
"Cuba will one day become the Hong Kong of the Caribbean", Arthur A. Fletcher, while visiting Cuba with the NBCC.
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.