Canada squandering Cuba relations as U.S. steps up: former envoy
Published Monday, March 21, 2016 11:45AM EDT
Amid U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba – the first by a sitting U.S. president in more than 80 years -- there are concerns that Canada may be squandering the warm relations it’s enjoyed with Havana for the last half century.
Mark Entwistle, who served as the Canadian ambassador to Cuba for several years in the mid-1990s, says Canada has had more than 70 years of unbroken diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Canada along with Mexico were the only two countries in the Western hemisphere to choose not to break relations with Cuba following the 1959 Cuban revolution.
That has given our country a distinct advantage in trade with Cuba, which our country should be capitalizing upon as the island nation begins to open its doors to the U.S. and the rest of world.
Canada already does several billion dollars’ worth of trade with Cuba and many Canadian companies are hoping to expand further there. And yet, Entwistle says, Canada has not taken advantage of our generally positive relationship with Cuba, failing to send any trade ambassadors there since Obama announced 15 months ago the U.S. would move to normalize relations.
He says there’s a “supreme irony” in the fact that Canada and Cuba have always done business, but that Obama’s visit is being so celebrated given the six decades of “toxic animosity” between the two countries.
“It really does put in stark relief the absence of Canada from participating -- or showing an interest in participating in the economic development of a country that is in evolution,” Entwistle told CTV’s Canada AM Monday.
While other countries have exhausted a lot of effort in sending ambassadors to Cuba since Obama’s announcement 15 months ago, Canada has been noticeably absent.
Last May, for example, French President Francois Hollande became the first Western head of state to visit Cuba in over 50 years. And in January of this year, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the country’s economy minister, flew to Havana to promote closer Cuban-German trade ties.
“Canada has not appeared. This is not lost on the Cubans,” he said.
““We are, in a way, missing in action on a story that is of profound importance to Canada and where we have an asset that we earned over 70 years of unbroken relations,” he said..
He added while there has already been “considerable change” in Cuba in the last year, the U.S. and Cuba are a long way off from being on friendly terms.
There are still some big issues to resolve -- lifting the trade embargo, for example; what to do about the Guantanamo Bay naval base; and compensation for expropriated properties, just to name a few.
“It’s a process that will take several years to unfold,” Entwistle said.