[Marxism] Cuba Tells Ottawa It Can Help In Americas

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 21 08:08:10 MST 2007

Canada´s Foreign Policy Weekly

November 21st, 2007
Cuba Tells Ottawa It Can Help In Americas

By Jeff Davis

As the Harper government develops its Americas Strategy, a
high-ranking Cuban official visited Ottawa, promoting Cuba as an
essential partner in Canada's push to engage Latin America and the
Caribbean. Meanwhile, Latin American specialists observe that
Harper's Cuba policy is-despite early fears-not all that different
from that of his Liberal predecessors.

"Cuba's presence and Cuba's good relations with the rest of our
region cannot be avoided and have to be present as part of anybody
else's priority towards Latin American and the Caribbean," said
Josefina Vidal.

Ms. Vidal, the director of North America division of the Cuban
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was in Ottawa for a series of meetings
last week.

She told Embassy her country has the knowledge and experience to be
of assistance.

"We have an experience co-operating with many Latin American
countries that we can share with the Canadians in that process of the
elaboration of their own strategy towards the region," she said.

"We have had many years of co-operation with many Latin American
countries to solve social problems that have accumulated for so many
years in those countries."

During her time in Ottawa, Ms. Vidal met with political and trade
officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International
Trade, officials from the Canadian International Development Agency,
elected members of the Canada-Cuba Inter-parliamentary Group, and
various institutions involved in trade and investment.

Ms. Vidal stressed that, with the exception of the United States and
El Salvador, Cuba is "now enjoying very positive relations" with the
rest of the nations in the hemisphere.

In particular, she said, Cuba is respected for the aid it provides to
many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba sends
delegations of doctors and teachers throughout many of the poorest
areas of the hemisphere. It also provides scholarships to other
nations so students can attend high-quality Cuban medical and other
programs, she said.

"[Cuba has a] very active and expanded co-operation program with
majority of countries in Latin America," Ms. Vidal said. This is part
of "new attempts to integrate among our countries to provide what
each has," she said.

Stephen Baranyi, a principal researcher with the North-South
Institute who recently spent two years in Cuba, agreed that Cuba's
regional outreach programs have scored it a lot of points.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Cuban medical assistance...is
highly appreciated and of quite high quality," he said.

Mr. Baranyi said the Cubans are interested in pursuing trilateral
co-operation with Canada and other countries in the region.

"We could in theory collaborate, link their support though doctors to
our support for health care systems, strengthening reform in the
region," he said.

The likelihood of this co-operation, however, is slim.

"I don't think it would be possible for the Harper government to
support that kind of co-operation because its values are so different
than the current regime in Cuba," he said.

Cuba Moving Toward Bolivarians

At Carleton University last week, Ms. Vidal spoke positively about
her country's allies Venezuela and Bolivia, and commended the
Bolivarian regimes for their populist policies.

"The governments are for the first time taking care of the problems,"
she said, noting that these governments are fighting poverty,
levelling income distribution, and "trying to take control of their
resources for the benefit of the people."

Despite its drift towards the Bolivarian regimes, Ms. Vidal said,
Cuba has not perceived any change in policy from Canada.

"In the last two years, since the new government won the elections,
we haven't seen so far any changes in Canada-Cuban relations," she
said. She added that Canada is maintaining its tradition of "an
independent policy towards Cuba."

Cuban Ambassador to Canada Ernesto Senti Darias added that Canada has
"so far has been so respectful" of Cuba's rapprochement with
Venezuela and Bolivia.

John Graham, chair of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas and a
former diplomat with experience in Cuba, said for a time there was
concern among academics and researchers that Canadian policies on
Cuba under the Conservatives could shift towards U.S. policy.

This concern, however, has faded.

"The indications now are that it is not going to happen and that
[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper and his people have accepted this
more traditional Canadian role," he said. "They are not parroting the
kind of messages that are coming out of the White House."

Mr. Harper, in an interview in the fall 2007 issue of the Americas
Quarterly, expressed a moderate and traditional stance towards Cuba.
Mr. Harper evoked the two countries' 62 years of diplomatic
relations, and said that while Canada has expressed concerns about
democracy and human rights in Cuba, "it is our view that the Cuban
people have the right to choose their own destiny."

This article, Mr. Graham said, "confirmed for me that the risk of
adopting a Bush policy toward Cuba had receded."

Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, would
neither confirm nor deny if Canada is moving towards a more
American-style policy on Cuba.

He said Canada "will be working with Cuba in promoting Canadian
values," such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Paul Dewar, the NDP foreign affairs critic, agreed with this

"There was a concern recently about whether or not Canada would join
the U.S. on the embargo of Cuba," he said. "I'm glad to say that
didn't happen."

Mr. Dewar added, however, that change could be on the way.

"I haven't had indications from the government to date that they've
changed [their Cuba policy], however that doesn't mean they aren't
going to be changing their policy," he said.

jdavis at embassymag.ca

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