His Holiness Pope Francis has recently been making headlines with an historical trip to Cuba and the United States. Both US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro have credited the pontiff’s behind-the-scenes yet pivotal role in their secret negotiations earlier this year, which brought an end to the 54-year diplomatic freeze between the two nations. And on the eve of the Pope’s 19 September visit to Cuba, the White House removed several trade barriers that have barred US companies from doing business in Cuba for over half a century.
The recent relaxation is a welcome first step, but far from all that is needed to resolve history’s longest trade embargo. The Toronto Sun has pointed out that, under the new rules, Starbucks can sell packaged coffee in Cuba but cannot mix lattes. Even non-US companies, which face no explicit bans from doing business with Cuba, pay an implicit price for defying Washington. Sherritt International, a publicly-traded Canadian mining and energy conglomerate, generates the majority of its revenue (C$ 1.2 billion in 2014) from Cuba. The company’s products are banned from the US, and some of its senior managers and directors are barred from traveling to the States. Few companies stand to gain as much from the expected thaw in US-Cuban relations – its current market capitalization is C$ 238 million, just 21 percent of last year’s turnover.