While many Virgin Islanders are concerned that the new, more open relation the United States is developing with Cuba might hurt the tourism industry in the territory, Sen. Myron Jackson takes a more positive view.
The U.S. Virgin Islands has “a history that goes beyond 50 years” with Cuba, he said, pointing to “rich cultural and family ties between the islands.”
“We must explore all the possible benefits,” he said.
Delegate Stacey Plaskett, on the other hand, worries that a heightened focus on Cuba will take attention away from the needs of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Immediately following President Obama’s announcement that he would visit Cuba she released the following statement:
“While I have been supportive of the president renewing relations with Cuba in the past, and support the implications of his historic visit to the future development of the island, I want to remind the administration that there are American territories in the region with more pressing needs.”
“Renewed diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba present real challenges to the territory, specifically, in competition for U.S. tourism dollars and as a potential diversion of port and manufacturing opportunities in the Caribbean,” she said.
Acknowledged those concerns, Jackson said, “We understand there will be a shift; but I don’t think, if the Virgin Islands gets its act together, it needs to be negative.”
One area for positive development between the Virgin Islands is through sports, according to Jackson. He noted there is a foundation of competition already.
To explore the possibilities of a new relationship to Cuba, Jackson plans to be part of a delegation in July representing the U.S. Virgin Islands at the Festival del Caribe in the city of Santiago, a former capital of Cuba.
He called the delegate’s refusal of an invitation to accompany President Obama when he landed in Cuba on March 20 “a missed opportunity.”
On March 19 Plaskett hosted members of Congress and business executives in the technology sector for a series of panel discussions at the Buccaneer Hotel and Resort in St. Croix. At that time she released a statement saying, “I regret not being able to join the president and the first lady in Cuba. There are a number of challenges faced by the local citizens of the Virgin Islands that have gone unnoticed for decades, and it is my belief that our previously scheduled activities will help make inroads in mitigating those challenges and help elevate the needs of the territory in the Washington discourse. I believe both to be chief among my many responsibilities as the Representative for the people of the Virgin Islands."
At the same time Plaskett said in her statement that she was happy to have been invited.
"I am, however, honored to have been considered for such an important and historically significant visit and will continue to support the President as he advances his agenda with regard to improving the lives of the Cuban people,” Plaskett said.
While Jackson said, “There are still a lot of questions to be answered concerning the changing relationship,” Plaskett seemed sure one question is already answered. In her first press release concerning Cuba, she said, “Investments in Virgin Islands capital improvements for basic infrastructure needs, such as roads, ports, schools and hospitals, must be a priority addressed by Congress in accordance with its Constitutional obligation above any potential aid to the Cuban government."