Relations between Canada and Cuba deteriorating, say scholars

Relations between Canada and Cuba continue to deteriorate – the fallout of the Free Trade Agreement with the US – prompting Cuba to seek trade partners elsewhere, but that can change, said two Cuban scholars speaking at a public panel on Nov. 14 at York’s Glendon campus.

University of Havana Professors Jorge Mario Sanchez and Raul Rodriguez discussed the topic "The Cuban Resurgence: Examining the Political Economic History of Cuba/US/Canada Relations". The event was hosted by the Glendon Economics Club and the Glendon Research Group in Public & International Affairs.

Robert Wright, a professor specializing in Canadian history, foreign policy and sovereignty at Trent University in Ontario, acted as the panel Chair. Wright is the author of Three Nights in Havana: Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro, and the Cold War World (Harper Collins, 2007), as well as several other books and numerous articles.

Right: Jorge Mario Sanchez (left), Robert Wright and Raul Rodriguez

Trade has always been the driving force behind Canada-Cuba relations with Canada displaying relative tolerance over ideological differences at a time when the US strongly objected to various Cuban involvements, such as aid to leftist countries in Africa and South America, explained Rodriguez, who specializes in history and international relations. He outlined areas where the two countries could cooperate, such as bilateral relationships in investment, tourism and trade.

"Successful cooperation in these areas would be a benefit in concrete terms for both countries, both economically and as an example for Latin America as a whole," said Rodriquez.

His view is that Canada and Cuba have a number of issues in common, such as their attempt to define themselves as nation-states vis-à-vis their neighbour, the US.

Rodriguez cautioned that, since the mid-1980s, the relationship between Canada and Cuba has deteriorated, with the result that Cuba is progressively seeking trade partners in the southern hemisphere.

"The question is, how far is Canada willing to challenge the US embargo to maintain and further develop trade with Cuba," said Rodriguez.

Sanchez, who teaches international economics, and Rodriguez took turns providing the historical background of Cuba from the end of the 19th century to the present. They outlined Cuba’s initial perception of Canada as a British dominion, an agent of British interests, with little interaction between Canada and Britain. At this time, Cuba was heavily dependent on the US.

This situation changed dramatically after 1959, marking the start of the Cuban Revolution when Cuba broke away from western economies in an attempt to gain full independence. The US reaction was swift and constant, consisting of economic embargos, military threats and numerous undercover activities designed to overthrow the Castro government.

Rodriguez pointed out that although Canada was one of the main allies of the US during the cold war, this country did not follow the US into the embargo. Instead, it maintained trade with Cuba, even though at times this caused serious friction between Canada and the US, particularly during John. Diefenbaker’s term as prime minister.

Left: Cuba

Sanchez said Canadian entrepreneurs had initially seized on Cuban opportunities, but with the Harper government following US guidelines much more closely than its predecessors, these relationships have decreased. Instead, Cuba’s relationship with Venezuela has grown steadily stronger with many joint ventures and an attempt at institutional integration. It is further facilitated by their common language and the highly-trained and educated workforce Cuba can readily provide.

"Continued and increasing economic dependence between the US and Canada at times impedes the latter from developing stronger ties with Latin America," said Sanchez. "Cuban collaboration with Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and others, such as China, is defined within the framework of an attempt to counterbalance the impact of the United States."

Rodriguez and Sanchez expressed their country’s desire to develop more partnerships and trade relationships with Canada.

An audience member asked what would happen to Cuba when Fidel Castro is finally gone. Sanchez and Rodriguez were adamant that, far from the stereotype of Castro running every aspect of government, in reality a highly-trained, experienced civil service and other educated professionals are already running the country. They saw no reason to anticipate transitional problems or significant changes in policies and direction.

The two were in Toronto to attend the biennial conference of the Association for Canadian Studies in the US, which ran from Nov. 14-18. They used the opportunity to travel across the region to provide information, make contacts and invite collaboration.

The lecture, under the guidance of Glendon history Professor Gillian McGillivray, was also made possible with the support of Glendon’s Office of the Principal and the Glendon Department of History.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.