Canada reviewing `constructive engagement' policy over Cuba's crackdown on dissent
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Herald Staff Writer
Canada, long one of Cuba's top trade and political partners, is cooling
with Havana in response to a crackdown on dissent earlier this year, the Ottawa
government confirmed Tuesday.
Canada has already canceled two aid projects for Cuba and two proposed
by Cabinet ministers, and will review all future programs and visits on a
case-by-case basis, government officials said.
Canada also recently halted its unsuccessful campaign to restore Cuba's
membership in the Organization of American States, suspended since the early
1960s, government spokesmen confirmed.
While the sanctions appeared relatively minor, the moves may add to
increasingly negative public image in Canada, a nation that has long stood as one
of Havana's top friends in the Americas, along with Mexico.
The announcements came amid Canadian and U.S. media reports detailing
complaints by some Canadian investors that the Cuban government has cheated
them out of millions of dollars.
Canada is Cuba's third-largest trade partner, behind Russia and Spain,
citizens form the single largest group of vacationers who fuel the island's $1.8
billion tourism industry.
But Ottawa's policy of maintaining warm relations with Cuba in hopes
pushing the Communist government to embrace reforms suffered a setback in
March when Havana convicted four opposition leaders on charges of sedition and
put a harsh new law on dissent into effect.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was said to have been particularly
by the four dissidents' convictions because he had asked President Fidel Castro
for their freedom during a meeting in Havana last year.
``We believe our `constructive engagement' approach remains the most
appropriate tool for advancing our interest in Cuba, but we decided to redefine the
framework,'' said Christian Girouard, spokesman for the Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade.
``We will now review all projects, on a case-by-case basis, to make
projects we do support do in fact help to improve the human rights situation and
promote economic reforms.''
He confirmed a report on the policy shifts in Tuesday's Globe and Mail
newspaper, but said the decision to change the basis of relations with Cuba had
in fact been made in mid-April.
One of the two projects canceled as a result of the shift would have
Canadian financing for several Cuban physicians to work in Haiti. The other would
have provided computers for Cuba's judicial system.