Trump's tough talk, Cuban military exercises cast shadow over Trudeau visit
Canadian officials are casting Justin Trudeau's visit to Cuba this week
as a diplomatic mission to reinforce trade links, continue Ottawa's
"respectful engagement" with Cuba and deliver a human rights message.
By TONDA MACCHARLESOttawa Bureau reporter
Sun., Nov. 13, 2016
OTTAWA—At a state dinner in Havana, the red carpet will be out to
welcome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie
Grégoire Trudeau, to Cuba on Tuesday.
Trudeau goes to Havana 40 years after his father became the first leader
of a NATO country to visit post-revolutionary Cuba. But the Liberal
government is not playing up the return of a Trudeau son to Cuban shores
as a renewal of personal ties forged in 1976 between his father, Pierre
Elliott Trudeau, and the Castro administration.
Instead, Canadian government officials are casting Justin Trudeau's trip
as a diplomatic mission to reinforce trade links, to continue Ottawa's
"respectful engagement" with Cuba and to deliver a human rights message.
Two government officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity
acknowledged "clearly the name of Trudeau is known in Cuba, clearly this
is a significant factor." But one official said the significance of the
Trudeau family's history there "is more for the Cubans."
"This is first and foremost an opportunity for the government of Canada
to exchange with Cuba," he said.
The officials said Trudeau's message on the ground will include a
display of support for civil society groups in Havana who defend human
rights, for "peaceful pluralism, respect for diversity and in
particular, the rights of women and girls and LGBTQ" people. They didn't
utter the word democracy, saying, "Whether it's specific to election and
multi-party elections, I think he'll talk about the importance of strong
governance and structures."
It is only the third time a Canadian prime minister has visited Cuba.
Jean Chrétien visited briefly in 1998.
But many Cuban observers say Trudeau's trip comes at an important
political moment with the election of Donald Trump to the White House.
Trump has sent mixed signals on Cuba.
Early in the campaign he was "fine" with U.S. President Barack Obama's
reset in 2014 of American relations with Cuba. By the end of it, Trump
told supporters in Miami he would keep the embargo in place and close
the recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana. In the wake of Trump's
election, Cuba relaunches military exercises this week, although the BBC
reports the exercises were scheduled in any event.
Some observers say it's high time Canada got back into the game to
assert Canadian business interests there, given the rising American
business interest in seeing the embargo formally lifted.
Canadian officials deny Trump's election changed anything, or that
Ottawa has already lost ground and is playing catch-up: "The best way to
stay on the ground is to keep on having a strong relationship with Cuba
no matter who the U.S. president was," said one. "It has nothing to do
with the presidential election. We will continue to be present in Cuba
and we will continue to deepen our cultural and our economic ties.
Lloyd Axworthy, who travelled to Cuba as minister of external affairs in
1997, said Canada has taken a lot of flak for engaging with the Castro
regime. Madeleine Albright, then U.S. secretary of state, "would say to
me, 'Why are you talking to that man?'" he said in an interview.
But Axworthy says there was an "enormous benefit payoff" to engagement.
"When it came to securing our seat on the (UN) Security Council in '99,
we just got virtually every Caribbean and Latin America vote," said
Trent University historian Robert Wright said the Trudeau government is
right to frame the visit as focused on trade.
"I think this trip is designed to be short and sharp, to have official
talks, to the extent that's possible in a short time frame, to shore up
in a short the established Canadian trade relationship particularly
vis-à-vis the entry of the Americans into that market presuming Donald
Trump is not going to unwind it."
"I don't think Justin Trudeau has anything to gain from the optics of
being close to the Cubans or establishing a warm relationship in the way
that his father did. His father was pilloried for finding that he had a
warm attraction to Castro and vice versa."
Trudeau will meet with President Raúl Castro, attend the state dinner in
his and his wife Sophie's honour, and meet with civil society groups,
University of Havana students and Canadian business people there.
A visit with Fidel Castro is likely if the old leader, frail at 90, is
in good enough health, and Canadian officials said they are prepared to
shift the schedule to make it possible.
The Cuba trip is the first stop on a three-country trip which will see
the prime minister travel to Argentina then on to Peru for the meeting
of Asia-Pacific leaders.
Source: Trump's tough talk, Cuban military exercises cast shadow over
Trudeau visit | Toronto Star -