June 30, 1999
The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, June 30, 1999
The next move is up to Fidel
After pursuing "constructive engagement" with Cuba for years, Canada has finally recognized that our "engaging" with the island dictatorship has been lopsided. Canada gives and Cuba takes. Canada champions the Castro regime and it cracks down on human rights. Well, not any more. Canada may be slow to sizzle, but it has finally started to burn.
Wisely, Canada has ordered a complete review of its relations with Cuba. Ministerial visits have been cancelled, a computer technology program to help modernize Cuba's courts has been suspended on the grounds that it is inappropriate to help a legal system that is denying its own citizens basic rights. A trade delegation planned for later this year has also been postponed. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has tirelessly defended his policy with Cuba, arguing that his accommodating approach gives Canada more leverage with Havana than the punitive U.S. policy. Now, even he has had to admit that trade partnerships, investment, bilateral friendship and prime ministerial visits have done nothing to improve Cuba's wretched human-rights record.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Cuba's use of the death penalty has increased since Mr. Chrétien's official tour last year, the first visit of a Canadian head of government since Pierre Trudeau's trip in 1976. Despite Mr. Chrétien's personal intervention in Havana on behalf of four leaders of the Dissidence Working Group and his subsequent high-level entreaties, the four were tried in a closed court this spring, found guilty of sedition and sentenced to terms ranging from 3½ to five years. All of this for daring to say what everybody knows: The Communist Party has failed to deal adequately with Cuba's economic problems.
The Canadian government had hoped that investing directly in the Cuban economy by building plants and infrastructure would not only deliver an economic return, but also lead to wider-ranging reforms. Those hopes have been largely dashed as Canadian companies report woeful tales of pouring good money into bad investments in Cuba. A Mississauga company, for example, lost $9-million trying to upgrade the island's power grid after the Cuban government pulled the plug on an electricity contract.
Canada has been a good friend and an important ally to Cuba, resisting pressure from the United Sates to impose economic sanctions and suspend relations. It is unlikely that Canada will ever adopt American-style trade embargoes. Isolating Cuba and turning it into a pariah state does not make sense, but Fidel Castro would be wise to heed the diplomatic warning that Mr. Chrétien has lobbed in his direction.
If simple morality and constructive engagement can't persuade Mr. Castro to improve the civil and human rights of his citizens, then perhaps he will respond to economic and diplomatic pressure. Mr. Castro must realize that it is in Canada's power to impede Cuba's desperate attempts to gain international legitimacy. As the host of the general assembly of the Organization of American States next summer in Windsor and the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, Canada controls the precious invitations to attend these important meetings.
Mr. Castro is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Cuban revolution this year and his aging and shabby promise that "there will be freedom for all men." He still has time to make good on that vow by freeing political prisoners, making judicial reforms, encouraging a pluralist political system and allowing Cubans to cast their ballots freely for the first time in four decades. How about for a democratically elected successor to el presidente?
Copyright © 1999 The Globe and Mail
[ BACK TO THE NEWS ]