In a year end interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba and revealed that he facilitated talks between the Obama Administration and Raul Castro’s regime starting in June 2013.
Harper told Mansbridge, “I think that’s an economy and a society just overdue for entry into the 21st century. Time will tell, but I think probably when the current generation of leadership passes you’ll see some changes.”
Harper is usually spot on when it comes to foreign policy, especially where it concerns the Middle East and Islamic terrorism. There is no foreign leader more publicly supportive of Israel than Harper.
But when it comes to Cuba, Harper is wearing rose colored glasses. When the current generation of leadership passes? Raul Castro is 83. Fidel is 88. Aside from some brave souls, the Castros are all Cubans know. Old habits are hard to break.
Yet I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising. Canada has always had diplomatic relations with Cuba. Indeed, for a time while I lived in Ottawa, the Cuban Embassy was just down the street from my home.
Go back to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Conservative government of John Diefenbaker was quite unsympathetic to JFK. Diefenbaker didn’t believe the intelligence JFK had given him, wanted UN inspections and refused to put Canadian troops on alert.
Fidel, of course, got on famously with Pierre Trudeau after he became the first Western leader to visit him back in 1976. Trudeau told the crowd that greeted him, “Viva Cuba!” much to the chagrin of the Ford Administration. When Trudeau died in 2000, Castro attended Trudeau’s funeral in Montreal and served as one of his pallbearers.
While it’s true that Brian Mulroney, who was close to Ronald Reagan, wasn’t particularly chummy with Castro, he nevertheless did not upset the applecart and maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba. There is a general consensus on Cuba across the Canadian political spectrum and most Canadian conservatives do not have much antipathy toward Cuba and for good reason.
Canada and Cuba have long standing trade relations and their annual trade is valued at about $1 billion a year (approximately $860 million in U.S. dollars). That trade relationship includes tourism. It is not unusual for Canadian university students, particularly those in Eastern Canada, to take their spring break in Cuba rather than in Florida.
In the grand scheme of things, Harper is infinitely better than Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s son) and Tom Mulcair. Still, I think Harper made a mistake in facilitating normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
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