PRICESMART AND CUBA IN ‘SHOPPING’ DISPUTE

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THE MEGA commercial conglomerate of the USA, ‘PriceSmart,’ which operates in various Caribbean Community states, is under sharp criticisms for now involving Cuba’s diplomatic missions in this Region in the more than half century of America’s trade, economic and financial blockade of that Caribbean nation.Immediately affected Cuban missions include Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago where accredited diplomats, their families and staff have been informed by PriceSmart management of the suspension of business accounts after being advised by their parent company of possible violations of the US embargo in transacting business with Cubans without “permanent residency” in countries of their operations.
In a mixture of hilarity and strong warning, current CARICOM chairman Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the US government should be “mindful of the implications of PriceSmart’s action.”
He pointed out that while at first he could not resist “laughing at this infantile political move,” he was nevertheless mindful that PriceSmart is incorporated into the laws of sovereign Caribbean states, and now engaging in “unnecessary, unprovoked acts” against Cuba’s diplomatic personnel and other Cuban nationals who are working in various regional sectors, including doctors and nurses.
The Vincentian Prime Minister said that neither the US government nor owners and operators of corporate enterprises like PriceSmart could be unmindful of the historic role initially played by CARICOM countries to bring Cuba out of the “diplomatic isolation” to which the US economic embargo had assigned it following its Fidel Castro-led 1959 revolution.
Further, of the Community’s continuing involvement with the rest of the international community, minus the miniscule exception of three, in passage, year after year, of resolutions denouncing the “archaic law” governing the embargo which has “miserably failed to destabilise” the government in Havana or to “quench the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people….”
“Criminal act”
Criticisms of PriceSmart’s suspension of business accounts for Cubans have come from Cuba’s embassies in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago headed respectively, by Ambassadors Bernardo Guanche Hernandez, Lisette Perez Perez; and Guittermo Vazquez Moreno.
For Ambassador Hernandez, the decision by PriceSmart constituted “a criminal act based on an anachronistic law” which violates the Vienna convention.
In Barbados, Ambassador Perez disclosed that a representative of the local PriceSmart turned up to inform the embassy about the suspension of business transactions while, he explained, they invest “effort, time and resources” in pursuing lawful channels in the US which “may enable us to reactivate those accounts…”
The resident Cuban diplomatic missions in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have pointed to “unnecessary inconveniences” to non-embassies staff like Cuban doctors and teachers.”
According to Ambassador Perez, there seems to be an “underlying intention to encourage defections” by Cubans in favour of having permanent resident status that would enable them to do “membership business” with PriceSmart.
“This is the sort of contempt by those,” she said, “who do not really understand what the Cuban revolution and Cuban patriotism mean for us.”
Ironically, the move by PriceSmart to suspend business transactions with Cuban diplomatic missions and Cubans who do not have permanent working status in CARICOM states, came against the backdrop of approval last month by the Cuban National Assembly of a ground- breaking foreign investment law to encourage a new “development partnership” that would be extended also to overseas-based Cubans.
By Rickey Singh