Tag Archives: Cuba-Canada Relations

CUBAN MEDICAL TEAMS FOR 2021 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Media Statement

Monday, November 16, 2020 – 17:00

The Council of Canadians’ statement on nominating Cuban international health teams for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. 

At the June 2020 Annual Meeting, Council of Canadians’ members voted to endorse and promote a Canadian nominating process for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to go the Henry Reeve medical teams from Cuba for their international work in the context of COVID-19.

In 2005, Cuba’s leaders looked ahead and saw a world increasingly beset by pandemics and natural disasters. This led them to initiate a program to train professional medical personnel to be able to respond quickly to emergency requests from other nations. This initiative resulted in the mobilization of thousands of Cuban medical personnel with the skills and training to deal with a variety of global calamities, known as the Henry Reeve brigades.

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Cuba responded to emergency requests for trained medical personnel by sending 53 health teams to 39 countries on four continents. The health teams were able to assist countries with fragile health systems that were ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19.

Cuba’s response to COVID-19 eclipses all other front-line efforts from industrialized nations in the fight against COVID-19. This response is more remarkable given that the island nation has been under a decades-long embargo by the United States of America. The U.S. State Department has made it known since the beginning of the pandemic that they might retaliate against any country receiving Cuban medical personnel. Only one country has capitulated to these threats from the U.S., and that country is Canada.

We are fortunate to have Dr. John Kirk as the nominator. As an expert on Cuba’s humanitarian efforts and its medical internationalism and a professor at Dalhousie University’s Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies, Dr. Kirk easily meets all of the strict requirements outlined by Oslo for those individuals heading up a nomination process for the Nobel Peace Prize. Read Dr. Kirk’s nomination.

The Council of Canadians fully supports this nomination effort, and are honoured to be working in solidarity with the endorsers listed below.

Individual Canadian endorsers for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Nomination for the international work of Cuban medical personnel

  • The Hon. Lloyd Axworthy – Canadian politician, elder statesman and academic served as Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs under P.M. Chretien, invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada and honoured at a sacred pipe ceremony as Waappski Pinaysee Inini (Free Range Frog Man), Chair of the World Refugee Council, among other prestigious international and academic positions;
  • Dr. Anna Banerji – Pediatrics and infectious disease specialist and Associate Professor at University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, Faculty lead for Indigenous and Refugee Health, invested in the Order of Ontario, 2014 Women’s Courage Award International, among other citations;
  • Jane Bunnett – Flautist, saxophonist and bandleader and jazz legend is a five-time Juno Award winner, invested in The Order of Canada and has more than a dozen albums featuring Cuban music, jazz, and classical as well as dance and pop music;
  • John Cartwright – Chairperson of the Council of Canadians Board of Directors and a long-time labour leader and social justice advocate. He is also the President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, and over the years helped develop the Campaign for Public Education, Public Transit for the Public Good, the Toronto Waterwatch and Toronto Hydro campaigns as well as crafting the “Green Jobs Strategy” for the Canadian Labour Congress.
  • George Elliot Clarke – Canadian poet, playwright and literary critic, known for chronicling the experience and history of the Black Canadian communities of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (“Africadia”), has served as Poet Laureate of Toronto and Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate, appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia and as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has received many other distinctions;
  • Bruce Cockburn – Canadian roots-rock legend, 13-time Juno Award winner, Officer of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, recipient of the environmental Earth Day Award, and many others honours;
  • Elizabeth Hay – Prize winning author of numerous novels, short stories, non fiction and essays. Among many honours, she was the co-winner of the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, received the Ottawa Book Award, won the Giller Prize in 2007, was accorded the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Medal, and most recently won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Elizabeth worked for ten years as a CBC radio broadcaster in Yellowknife, and also did radio documentaries for CBC’s Sunday Morning.
  • The Rt. Hon. Michaelle Jean – Canadian stateswoman, journalist and a refugee from Haiti, was the 27th Governor General of Canada and the third Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, named member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, and has received many Appointments, Medals, and Awards as well as multiple Honorary degrees;
  • Dr. Noni E. MacDonald – Paediatrics infectious disease specialist and Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University, invested in the Order of Nova Scotia and in the Order of Canada, and recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Canadian Society for International Health, among other honours;
  • MP Elizabeth May – Canadian politician who served as leader of the Green Party of Canada from 2006 to 2019. An environmentalist, author, activist and lawyer, May founded and served as Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada from 1989 to 2006. Elizabeth has been an officer of the Order of Canada since 2005, and has been named by the United Nations as one of the leading women environmentalists worldwide, among other citations.
  • Senator Pierrette Ringuette – The first francophone woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. In the 1993 federal election she won a seat in the House of Commons of Canada as a Liberal Member of Parliament. In 2002 she was appointed to the Senate on the recommendation of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. In 2007 she received the grade of Officer of the Ordre de la Pleiade in recognition of her contribution to the development of francophone and Acadian culture.  In 2016 she chose to sit as part of the Independent Senators Group. Senator Ringuette continues to be a member of several standing committees and is currently a Counselor of The Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas, Co-Chair of the Canada-Cuba Inter-Parliamentary Group.
  • Svend Robinson – Canadian politician and Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party, a strong environmentalist and outspoken advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples both in Canada and internationally, he was adopted into the Haida Nation (“White Swan”), J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar at Simon Fraser University, and among several awards…the Elena Iberoamerican Award on Ethics and the Hero Award, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity;
  • David T. Suzuki – Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist is a Companion of the Order of Canada and invested in the Order of British Columbia, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award and has been awarded honorary degrees from over two dozen universities around the world, and is the host the CBC’s long running series The Nature of Things;

Organizational Canadian endorsers for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Nomination for the international work of Cuban medical personnel

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

CANADIAN RETIREE TURNING OUT HANDMADE BASEBALL BATS FOR CUBA

Andrew Duffy

Ottawa Citizen, Sep 10, 2020  •  Last Updated 12 hours ago

From his basement woodworking shop in the Ottawa Valley, former car salesman Bill Ryan, 66, is turning out finely-crafted maple bats for Cuba’s beleaguered baseball leagues. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

A retired Ottawa Valley car salesman is turning out hundreds of hand-made maple bats every year for Cuban baseball players as part of a decade-long effort to assist the impoverished island nation.

Bill Ryan, 66, spends 10 or 11 hours every day in his basement woodworking shop, making his now famous “Cubacan” bats.

This year, he wants to send 600 bats — they each cost about $50 — to Cuba, which is about to start its national baseball series. Professional quality bats are difficult to find and prohibitively expensive in Cuba, which remains the subject of a strict U.S. trade embargo.

“The only way I can do this is to do all of the steps myself,” says Ryan, who lives on a rural side road south of Carleton Place, near Franktown.

He uses his own sawmill to cut the rectangular “blanks” from which he crafts a baseball bat. The blanks — rectangular blocks 36 inches long and three inches wide — are kiln-dried for three months to reduce their moisture content and weight.

Each bat requires about two hours of labour. Ryan uses a lathe to shape the bat, then sands it three different ways before applying two coats of paint, decals and two coats of varnish.

A careful record keeper, Ryan has made 2,967 bats since he launched his “hobby” a decade ago. Almost all of his bats are now in Cuba.

“When I made the first bat, there was no intention of making the second or the third: It just sort of built,” he says.

Like most Canadians, Ryan’s first exposure to Cuba came as a sun-seeking tourist.  A deeper involvement in the country started innocently enough when he decided to fashion a few bats as gifts for Cuban friends. A lifelong woodworker, Ryan made trophy bats that were more a decoration than a piece of baseball equipment.

In baseball-mad Cuba, however, the bats attracted attention and he was asked to make more, including bats that could be used in games. The maple bats quickly grew in popularity among Cuban players.

He was also asked to make bats as gifts for each of the Cuban Five — five intelligence officers who were arrested by U.S. authorities in September 1988. “Los Cincos” spent more than a decade in U.S. prisons after being convicted of spying. Cuba maintained they were in South Florida to monitor extremist exiles involved in a wave of terrorist bombings in Havana.

All of the men were released by 2014 and welcomed home as heroes in Cuba. Ryan met and befriended one of them, Gerardo Hernandez, and together they launched a grassroots organization, Cubacan, dedicated to improving the lives of ordinary Cubans.

Cubacan has shipped equipment and materials to improve bat making in Cuba. Last year, the organization delivered more than two tonnes of sports equipment to the island.

This year, Ryan wants to send 600 hand-crafted bats to the 16 teams competing in Cuba’s national baseball series, a key stepping stone to the Olympic Games for the country’s best players. The series starts next week.

Cuba is struggling to equip its baseball teams because of economic sanctions and new restrictions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump. During the past four years, Trump has reversed the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations orchestrated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and tightened the sanctions that have stifled the Cuban economy for 60 years.

Ryan says U.S. efforts to damage Cuba even reached into the Ottawa Valley. Earlier this year, he says, under pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, GoFundMe closed his fundraising account which had been created to send sports equipment to Cuba from Canada.  The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) is now leading the fundraising effort to raise $30,000 to send the Cubacan bats to Cuba.

Ryan still travels to Cuba once a year with his wife, Nora. It’s “incredibly satisfying,” he says, to watch a baseball player hit a home run with one of his bats, but seeing one break still makes him shudder.

Two years ago, Ryan received the Cuban government’s Friendship Medal, which has gone to people such as singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover.

“More than one million Canadians go to Cuba every year,” he says, “so we’re trying to suggest to some of those people to send a bat, offer a donation, give something back.”

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged | 1 Comment

TRUMP ACTIVATED A LONG-DORMANT CLAUSE IN CUBA TRADE WAR — AND IT’S STARTING TO HURT CANADIAN COMPANIES

Sherritt International is suffering from a ratcheting up of U.S. restrictions on everything from financial transactions, to travel and shipping

Naomi Powell, November 5, 2019, 3:47 PM EST

Tougher U.S. sanctions on Cuba squeezed Sherritt International in the third quarter, disrupting the supply of diesel to its nickel mine on the island and casting doubt over the timing of key payments in foreign currency.

The Toronto based firm, which operates the Moa mine as a joint venture with the Cuban government, was forced to adopt conservation measures including running fewer mining trucks as U.S. sanctions on oil shipments worsened an acute fuel shortage.

The measures reduced production of mixed sulphite, though nickel production was unaffected. Mixed sulphides production is now back on track and access to fuel supply returned to normal in the fourth quarter, the company said in a call with investors Friday.

Meantime, the Trump administration’s attempts to unsettle business in the Communist run nation have stifled the flow of cash Cuba needs to pay Sherritt, which has taken pains to limit its direct exposure to American sanctions, including the recent activation of Title III of the Helms Burton Act.

 

Sherritt’s Moa Cuba Operations

“The U.S. sanctions continue to be a concern for us,” Sherritt chief executive David Pathe said in a call with analysts last week. “There is potential for further sanction increases in the months ahead and that does put further difficulty on our ability to forecast the timing of Cuban receivables, receipt of cash on Cuban receivables from our Cuban partners in the oil and power business.”

The Trump administration moved in April to activate Title III of the 1996 Helms Burton Act, the legal underpinning of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The long-dormant provision allows parties whose property was confiscated by the Cuban government in the 1959 revolution to sue in U.S. courts anyone who “traffics” or derives an economic benefit from that property. The provision has been suspended by every previous U.S. President.

Though a certified claim of $88.3 million stands against Sherritt’s Moa nickel mine, the company has structured its operations to avoid having any presence in the U.S. where a claim could be pursued. And changes made in 1996 to Canada’s Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act (FEMA) state that any judgement made under the U.S. embargo will not be recognized or enforced in Canada.

But that hasn’t sheltered Sherritt from a ratcheting up of the U.S. restrictions on everything from financial transactions, to travel and shipping.

In an effort to punish Havana for its close ties to Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, the Trump administration has limited U.S. travel to Cuba, banned American cruise ships from entering Cuban ports, imposed sanctions on shipping companies and restricted the ability of Americans to send remittances to family in the country. The moves have limited foreign investment in Cuba, restricted access to supplies and equipment and reduced the availability of foreign currency, Sherritt said.

That’s left the Caribbean nation unable to pay Sherritt — it’s largest private investor — for the energy it has produced. Sherritt also produces electricity, oil and gas in the country.

“Each one of those implemented successively does impact Cuba’s ability to draw hard currency reserves into the country and puts more pressure on their liquidity situation and hence more pressure on their ability to service our receivables,” Pathe told investors.

Sherritt’s Cuban partners are currently overdue on US$154.8 million in payments, though the Canadian miner did receive its monthly injection of US$2.5 million, National Bank Canada analyst Don DeMarco said in a note.

Cuba’s timing in paying off the debt will have implications for Sherritt’s liquidity and “ability to repay (or refinance) the Cdn $170 million first tranche of corporate debt due in 2017,” he added.

So far 20 lawsuits have been filed under Title III, according to John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a group that tracks Title III lawsuits. That’s a long way from the avalanche of claims many experts were expecting when Trump activated the provision, many of which were expected to affect Canadian companies.

Nearly 6,000 certified claims for property confiscated in Cuba have been certified by the U.S. Justice Department. And the number of uncertified claims have been estimated to be as high as 200,000.

Many parties are likely waiting to see how U.S. courts sort out various jurisdictional and other issues related to the law before venturing out with their own claims, said John Boscariol, head of the international trade and investment law group at McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

“This just happened in April so this is just the tip of the iceberg I think,” he said. “A lot of Canadian companies stepped in to fill the vacuum after the U.S. left so I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this.”

Though former U.S. President Barack Obama sought to settle the certified claims and restore relations with Cuba, Trump has taken a markedly different stance. Ultimately the action will have a “chilling effect” on investment in Cuba, he added.

“Rather than face lawsuits, these companies may decide not to spend in Cuba at all,” he said.

Financial Post

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Book: CUBAN FOREIGN POLICY:,Transformation Under Raúl Castro

Edited by H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

This volume illustrates the sweeping changes in Cuban foreign policy under Raúl Castro. Leading scholars from around the world show how the significant shift in foreign policy direction that started in 1990 after the implosion of the Soviet Union has continued, in many ways taking totally unexpected paths—as is shown by the move toward the normalization of relations with Washington. Providing a systematic overview of Cuba’s relations with the United States, Latin America, Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, this book will be invaluable for courses on contemporary Cuban politics.

THE AUTHORS:

Michael Erisman is professor of international affairs at Indiana State University.

John M. Kirk is professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University.

 

PUBLICATION DETAILS:

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 314 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-4422-7092-3 • Hardback • April 2018 • $85.00 • (£54.95)

978-1-4422-7093-0 • Paperback • April 2018 • $35.00 • (£23.95)

978-1-4422-7094-7 • eBook • April 2018 • $33.00 • (£22.95)

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Historical Introduction to Foreign Policy under Raúl Castro, John M. Kirk

Part I: Key Issue Areas

  1. The Defense Contribution to Foreign Policy: Crucial in the Past, Crucial Today
    Hal Klepak,
  2. Cuba’s International Economic Relations: A Macroperspective on Performance and Challenges, H. Michael Erisman
  3. The Evolution of Cuban Medical Internationalism, John M. Kirk

Part II: Cuba’s Regional Relations

5. Cuba and Latin America and the Caribbean, Andrés Serbin
6. Cuba and Africa: Recasting Old Relations in New but Familiar Ways, Isaac Saney
7. Cuba and Asia and Oceania, Pedro Monzón and Eduardo Regalado Florido
8. Cuba and the European Union, Susanne Gratius
9. Cuba, Oceania, and a “Canberra Spring”, Tim Anderson

Part III:Cuba’s Key Bilateral Relations

10. The United States and Cuba, William LeoGrande
11. Canada and Cuba, John M. Kirk and Raúl Rodríguez
12. Spain and Cuba, Joaquín Roy
13. Venezuela and Cuba, Carlos A. Romero
14. Brazil and Cuba, Regiane Nitsch Bressan
15. Russia and Cuba, Mervyn Bain
16. China and Cuba, Andrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Part IV: Retrospective and Prospective Views

17. Conclusion, H. Michael Erisman and John M. Kirk

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA, SÍ, VENEZUELA, NO? A DOUBLE STANDARD IN FOREIGN POLICY

BOTH LATIN AMERICAN STATES REPRESS THEIR CITIZENS AND HAVE LITTLE REGARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, SO WHY HAVE THEY RECEIVED SUCH DIFFERENT TREATMENT FROM CANADA AND OTHERS? 

BY:  YVON GRENIER, JUNE 21, 2018

 Original Article: Cuba, Sí, Venezuela, No?

For years the Trudeau government has been exceptionally forceful in its condemnation of Nicolas Maduro’s budding dictatorship in Venezuela.

Canada imposed sanctions last September on key figures in the Maduro regime “to send a clear message that their anti-democratic behaviour has consequences.” In advance of April’s Summit of the Americas, Canada supported the announcement by host country Peru that Maduro would not be welcome to attend. In Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s words: “Maduro’s participation at a hemispheric leaders’ summit would have been farcical.”

Freeland then characterized Maduro’s re-election on May 20 as “illegitimate and anti-democratic,” with Canada announcing further sanctions on key figures in the Maduro regime on May 30. The Organization of American States also passed a June 5 resolution that calls for an extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela from the 34-member organization. Furthermore, Canada will not seek to replace its ambassador in Caracas, which amounts to suspending normal diplomatic relations. And most recently, in a speech at a Foreign Policy event June 13 in Washington, Freeland made a point of mentioning the country, saying that “some democracies have gone in the other direction and slipped into authoritarianism, notably and tragically Venezuela.”

The three main parties in Ottawa are strangely in lockstep to denounce the “erosion of democracy” in that once prosperous and democratic nation. But the Trudeau government is particularly combative. This is a strong contrast to our policy toward the only country in the region that is arguably a worse offender of democratic rights: Cuba. For if “Canada will not stand by silently as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic rights,” its policy toward Cuba has studiously been to stand by silently as the Castro brothers and now President Miguel Díaz-Canel robs the Cuban people of their fundamental democratic rights.

Comparing the state of democracy and human rights

The kind of elections held on May 20 in Venezuela, while clearly unfree and unfair, would represent a positive step toward pluralism in the one-party system of communist Cuba. For one, Maduro banned his main opponents from running, but he did allow two marginal opponents to campaign and compete for the presidency. Neither the Castro brothers nor Díaz-Canel ever had to run against anybody. For decades they were appointed unanimously by a rubber-stamp legislature completely controlled by the only party allowed in the country. Arbitrary detentions, total control of all branches of government by the executive, and violation of democratic rights are systematic and written into law on the island.

While Maduro is accused of violating the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his Cubans counterparts do not need to disregard their 1976 constitution to trample democratic rights; its template is the USSR’s constitution of 1936 (imposed there under the leadership of Joseph Stalin). Cubans visiting Venezuela are pleasantly surprised at how relatively free the media and Internet access are compared to the reality at home. Monitoring organizations such as The Economist Intelligence Unit, Reporters without Borders and Freedom House rank Cuba lower than Venezuela in their indexes of democracy, press freedom, and civil and political rights.

True, violent repression in Cuba is not as overt as it has been recently in the patria of Bolivar, where up to 160 civilians were killed by government forces during the massive street protests of last summer. Arguably, this is because Cuba is a more stable dictatorship, one that has already exported most of its opposition overseas. Short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights activists, independent journalists and dissonant artists appear sufficient to curb public criticism. Incidentally, the number of such arrests “have increased dramatically in recent years” according to Human Rights Watch. The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 5,155 such detentions in 2017. As Venezuela becomes more totalitarian, and more of its aggrieved citizens rush to the exit, it will conceivably experience lower levels of violence and unrest. To recall: in the wake of the 1959 revolution, violent clashes with the “counter-revolutionary” opposition lingered on until mid-1965 in Cuba — Fidel Castro had become a master of counter-insurgency.

According to some observers, the humanitarian situation may be worse in Venezuela, primarily because of rapidly deteriorating access to food and medicine. But then again, it is hard to measure and compare. The Cuban government does not produce statistics on poverty on the island. We know most Cubans are very poor, especially if they don’t have access to remittances regularly sent by their family in exile, a source of income not (yet) available to most Venezuelans.

In other words, while the situation may be worse in some respects in Venezuela, the difference in criticism from outside those countries can be in no way because of Cuba’s superior “democratic behaviour.”

A Cuban fascination versus a newer crisis

And yet, under Trudeau, Canada’s relations with communist Cuba have returned to their former glory. Seasoned advocate of ever-closer Canada-Cuba relations, professor John Kirk, recently waxed eloquent at a conference in Barcelona about a newly found “warm embrace” between the two countries, with increased investments, cultural ties, and exchange of high-ranking government ministers in both directions. The Canadian government, according to its approach presented online, is about “unlocking opportunities” and trade, not about sanctions and denunciations of undemocratic practices.

Contrast Freeland’s comments on Maduro to Trudeau famously saying, in his statement on the death of Fidel, “on behalf of all Canadians,” that “Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.”

When CBC News senior parliamentary reporter Catherine Cullen asked Trudeau whether he believes Castro was a dictator, Trudeau tepidly replied: “Yes.” Yet he sends very mixed messages and seems to prefer overlooking the darker side of the Cuban regime.

One can think of several plausible explanations for this discrepancy, starting with the Trudeau family and its strange fascination with Fidel. Comparisons with US President Donald Trump’s man crush for Vladimir Putin come to mind. One cannot help but wonder if Freeland’s silence on Cuba (it would be a shoe-in addition to her Putin-Maduro axis of evil) is a concession made to the boss.

Other explanations, inter alia: Venezuela is (still) an OAS member, unlike Cuba, though if memory serves, Canada and other principled guardians of the OAS Democratic Charter are invariably sanguine about welcoming Cuba back to the hemispheric fold. Perhaps hostility toward communist Cuba is now perceived as an outmoded residue of the Cold War. Venezuela is a post-Cold War failing state, driven to the ground by a clumsy heir of Hugo Chávez, with no Bay of Pigs or even embargo (the US purchases most of Venezuela’s oil) as convenient excuses.

The most credible justification for such double standards is that Venezuela is in the midst of a crisis, with lots of moving parts, rather than being fully constituted (or ossified) like Cuba, where it is too late for pressures to work. The island fully “slipped into authoritarianism” — just as Freeland described Venezuela recently — in 1952 and then into totalitarianism in the 1960s. Former US President Barack Obama’s rationale for opening up to Cuba was ostensibly that the US tried to topple the regime for longer than he lived, and repeatedly failed. Venezuela is still in flux, increasingly isolated in the region and the world, and consequently, amenable to change under international pressure. Maybe.

Cuba’s impact on Venezuela

Be that as it may, Canada would be well advised to consider the responsibility of Cuban leaders in the current crisis in Venezuela. Cuban infiltration of Venezuelan state institutions is complete, as Cuban “advisers” can be found in virtually every single office, ministry or barrack of the Venezuelan state. Meanwhile, millions of Venezuelan oil dollars (even foreign oil bought by Venezuela and gifted to Cuba) flow into Cuba’s coffers. Venezuela had been an obsession of Fidel’s since the early 1960s and turning the country into a Cuban ally was his greatest foreign policy accomplishment. His smaller and poorer country astonishingly managed to infiltrate what is after all a larger and richer country. When Chávez declared in 2007 that Cuba and Venezuela were a “single nation” with a “one single government,” he was not kidding.

So, in other words, Canada is excoriating Venezuela for trying to emulate a country Canada is proud to have sunny relations with. To be provocative: would the Canadian government like Maduro more if he, like Cuban leaders, banned competitive elections altogether and closed the borders?

Leaving aside the complementary but separate discussion on what policy is best for Canada, one can at least say this: if Canada continues to pick its human rights policies à la carte, raging against violations in one country and glossing over possibly worse ones next door, the world may notice and take neither Canada’s principled position nor its not-so-principled position seriously. And if global consistency is too much to ask (after all, Canada seems to get along fine with China, Saudi Arabia, etc.), at least some regional evenness or just an explanation would be most welcome.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ACADEMICS FROM CARLETON UNIVERSITY HELPED “JUMP-START” WESTERN ECONOMICS IN CUBA AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION.

How Carleton profs brought Western economics to Cuba

zzzzzzzzzJustin Trudeau speaks to a University of Havana audience plus officials in the Aula Magna, Universidad de la Habana, November 16, 2016

Here’s how it happened: after the Soviets ended their “special relationship” with Cuba, the faculty of economics at the University of Havana wanted to introduce supply-demand micro and macroeconomics into its curriculum.

This was no small problem. Soviet economics had virtually disappeared, and Cuban economists were left orphaned. They didn’t even speak the language of Western economics, and they found it difficult to communicate with their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Carleton economist Archibald “Arch” Ritter, an expert in economic development, was at the first meeting in Havana in December 1993. The meeting brought together academics from Canada, Chile, Argentina and the University of Havana as well as officials from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to hammer out a plan.

The  group decided to organize a joint master’s program in economics, mainly for young faculty members from Cuban universities, to be offered at the University of Havana. Carleton’s then-president Robin Farquhar approved the agreement. The program was up and running six months later.

Financed for the first two years by the IDRC and in its final three years by the Canadian International Development Agency with support from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, the program was later expanded to include biology, business, linguistics, women’s studies and public administration. Professors were recruited from Canada and Latin American countries.

 “It was neat to jump-start the introduction of Western economics to Cuba,” says Ritter, who taught in Havana part-time for five years. “And we did it on a shoestring budget.”

The project had broad support at the University of Havana, but it was far from unanimous, says Ritter. The students, however, “were all most congenial and very keen.”

In his blog, former student Luis Casaco, who now lives in Uruguay, recalls the day a stranger arrived in a classroom while he was making a presentation. She identified herself as a member of the communist party. The presentation continued, but there was a confrontation and the students defended their position that Cuba needed a radical transformation towards a market economy and a democratic system.

The woman angrily left the classroom. The next day, Casaco was called in for an urgent meeting.

“The woman started speaking in an irritating, slowly and softly way on the importance of the program, while emphasized the interest of some sectors in the university to dismantle it,” Casaco recalled. “She started to get angry, and said that the university belongs for the revolutionary people.”

Casaco’s professors came to his aid, including Ritter. “If they threaten you and intend to force you to stop free-speaking, I will shut down this program,” he recalls Ritter saying. “And then he added: ‘This is not a class of the communist Cuban party; this is a Carleton University class.’”

The program ran until 2001. Between 1991 and 1997, there was a shortage of food in Cuba after subsidies from the Soviet Union ended. “People were very thin,” said Ritter.

Many of the Cuban graduates went on to earn PhDs in economics both inside Cuba and at Carleton. Some left Cuba and built their lives elsewhere. According to Ritter’s count, 31 of the 76 graduates had left Cuba to go to Canada, the U.S. and countries in Latin America as of 2010.

“We contributed to a change in the climate of opinion, and changed the teaching of economics,” says Ritter.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzCarleton University economics professor Arch Ritter, pictured in Cuba in 2015 in a 1955 Chevrolet, taught part-time for five years at the University of Havana.

Ritter is often called upon to answer questions about Cuba. So, what will happen in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death?

Ritter doesn’t think it will change much. Castro has been mostly out of the picture since he became ill about a decade ago. Castro’s brother Raúl, now 85, served under his brother for 46 years. He was officially made president in 2008, and instituted a major set of reforms in 2010-11, which have liberalized small businesses.

“I don’t see much of change in the short run,” says Ritter. “Raúl will pretty much pick his successor. The succession will follow Raúl’s line. Raúl is very cautious. It took him almost five years to decide on the reform package.”

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged , | Leave a comment

CANADA-CUBA ECONOMIC RELATIONS: AN UPDATE

By Arch Ritter                                                                                                  October 5, 2016

 Canada and Cuba have maintained a normal and mutually beneficial economic relationship from Colonial times to 2016.  With the beginning of Cuba’s “Special Period” in 1990 and its modest moves towards a mixed market economy in the 1990s, Canadian participants were optimistic about future economic relations.  In the 2000’s, this was replaced by some skepticism, but with the reforms of 2010-2012 and the beginning of the normalization of US Cuba relations, optimism has returned. This article provides an update on Cuban-Canadian economic relations, including trade, foreign investment, development assistance and migration and some speculation concerning the future of the relationship.

Canada-Cuba Trade Relations

Since the start of Cuba’s revolution, normal trade relations between Canada and Cuba have been maintained. However, trade has waxed and waned over the years as can be seen in Chart 1. The chief feature of the trade relationship in the 1980s was the large volume of Canadian exports which were mainly wheat. Trade expanded steadily in the 1990s with the ending of the special trade relationship with the Soviet Union, as Cuba’s economy began to recover and as it began to diversify its export markets and sources of imports.

q1After 2001, Cuba’s exports to Canada expanded and began to exceed Canada’s exports to Cuba due to high nickel volumes and prices. Canadian exports to Cuba have more or less stagnated since 2001 while other countries have increased their market shares.  By 2015, Canada was the fourth ranking exporter to Cuba following Venezuela, China, and Spain (Table 1.) In contrast, Canada was the second largest export market for Cuba after Venezuela in 2015, accounting for 11% of Cuba’s exports.

r1

Cuba’s exports to Canada have consisted almost totally of nickel concentrates, with cigars, rum, seafood and copper scrap (presumably a quirk in 2015) as very small foreign exchange earners (Table 2.).

By 2015, Canada’s exports to Cuba were reasonably diversified (Table 2.) Its agricultural exports remained significant, though overwhelmed by US agricultural exports. Minerals (sulfur for Cuba’s nickel industry, potash for fertilizer), metals (copper products for Cuba’s electrical system mainly) and machinery of various types have all been significant in the 2010s.

r2 Tourism

Cuba’s best and most faithful friend is the brutal Canadian Winter, which has driven millions of Canadians to warmer Caribbean climes during the December to April period. Canada has been the largest single national source of tourists consistently from 1990 to 2015 and accounted for almost 40% of all tourist arrivals in 2015.  But when US tourism opens up completely, there will likely be a deluge of US winter-escape tourism as well as curiosity tourism, convention tourism, medical tourism, March-break tourism and retirement relocation. The result will likely be that prices rise, and Canadian winter time tourism may well be squeezed out of Cuba into lower cost destinations.

q2Canadian Enterprises in Cuban Joint Ventures

In 1991, Cuba opened itself to foreign investment in joint venture arrangements with state firms. By the end of 1999, there were 72 joint ventures or “economic association” agreements between Canadian firms and Cuban state enterprises but few seem to have ever come to life.

Sherritt International has been by far the most successful Canadian-Cuban joint venture.  Its formula for success is one that cannot likely be replicated by any other enterprise.  In effect, it exchanged 50% of its ownership in the nickel refinery in Alberta Canada for 50% ownership of the Moa mine and concentrator in Cuba and shared in the ownership of the marketing enterprise.  This made Cuba a significant foreign investor in Canada!  The Sherritt experience was explored in the previous issue of this publication.

A number of mineral exploration companies established joint ventures in Cuba by 1994 in association with Geominera S.A. It was thought that Cuba was an ideal location for mineral exploration because much of the country had been covered by aero-magnetic and geological surveys in the Soviet era.  Among the enterprises involved in exploration projects in joint ventures with Geominera were Holmer Gold Mines, Joutel Resources, CaribGold Resources, Northern Orion, and MacDonald Mines. Unfortunately, the exploration undertaken from 1992 to 2007 yielded disappointing results and none of the exploration projects led to producing mines. This suggests that either the quality and/or magnitude of the deposits are lower than in other regions of the world. Alternatively, perhaps the investment conditions, the policy environment and/or the political risk situation were worse than elsewhere. It would be surprising if there were another mineral exploration rush in the medium term future, unless mineral prices were to rise to very high levels.

Canadian enterprises in real estate development have also had difficult experiences in Cuba. One project announced in October 1998 by an association between Cuba’s luxury hotel chain, Gran Caribe and Cuban Canadian Resorts International proposed U.S. $250 million set of four condominiums with hotel and resort facilities. It would have opened up an important new type of tourism for Cuba.  However, in May 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Investment and Cooperation announced a prohibition of foreign ownership of condominium units killing this and other such projects for the time being.

Another project was that of Leisure Canada for the construction of some 11 hotels and two golf courses, a marina. (Leisure Canada Incorporated, 2000). This project fizzled out. In 2011 Leisure Canada, having changed its name to 360 VOX Corporation, was bought out by Dundee Corporation in May 2014.  Any mention of this project has disappeared.

One successful venture was the construction of five airports in Cuba, including Varadero and Havana International Airports by Intelcan Technosystems of Ottawa. The CDN$ 52 million investment in the Havana Airport, was financed in part by Canada’s Export Development Corporation (33%) and 15% from Intelcan. Since 2000, the ultimate payment has come from international passengers who pay U.S. $25.00 (CUC 25.00) as an airport tax on departure.

Unfortunately brilliant successes for Canadian-Cuban joint ventures seem to be few and far between.  Indeed, a number of executives of Canadian trading enterprises and joint ventures, Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian, were jailed and tried on corruption charges –a cooling factor in the foreign investment process. The moral of the story is that establishing a joint venture in Cuba can work, but it must be done with patience, intelligence, and scrupulous awareness of Cuban regulations and processes and with clear benefits for the Cuban partner enterprise and the Cuban people.

Canadian Development Assistance

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has provided some interesting development assistance to Cuba since 1994. A major proportion of this has been “economic” in character, aimed at the “modernization of the state.”  Some has been used to support the initiation of projects by Canadian enterprises with Cuban counterparts or to promote Canadian exports. Some of the economic programs were micro-enterprise tax administration, economic management, support for technical training and computer acquisition at the Central Bank, a program to help strengthen administration and professional economics at the Ministry of Economics and Planning and training/certification programs for tradesmen in some basic industrial areas. Various types of commodity assistance were provided as well. Much of the assistance provided by NGOs was aimed at community level activities.  A small amount of assistance was directed towards human rights and governance initiatives including a “Human Rights Fund Pilot Project” and “Dialogue Fund” with multiple Canadian and Cuban partners.

r3Canada’s active development assistance projects in Cuba as of mid-2016 are listed in Table 3. The annual expenditures of these multi-year projects for 2014-2015 was $CDN 2.42 million, a very

 International Migration

 An interesting dimension of Canadian-Cuban relations is migration. As indicated in Chart 3, Cuban migration to Canada has risen from levels in the hundreds in the 1980s to around 1,400 in 2014-2015. However, an unknown number of the Cuban immigrants to Canada move on to the United States, especially Florida, reflecting the attraction of the large Cuban-American population there and the weather.

 q3

Detailed sociological information on Cuban migrants is not available. However, my impressions are that, generally speaking, they are relatively well-educated, industrious, self-activating and entrepreneurial. They also seem to be relatively young, for the most part, many having recently finished their education and just starting out on their careers. Many Cuban immigrants seem to have done reasonably well and have found work in their professional areas, something that is not easy in a new society, culture and language.  This migration represents a “brain drain” or a loss of human capital for Cuba and a corresponding gain for Canada.

 Prospective Canadian-Cuban Economic Relations

The future economic relationship between Canada and Cuba will be shaped mainly by three factors: the strength and durability of Cuba’s economic recovery; the nature of Cuba’s economic policies affecting trade, and foreign investment; and the character and timing of complete normalization of relations with the United States.

A sustained recovery of the Cuban economy would promote a deepened and broadened economic relationship with Canada. A growing Cuban economy would permit increases in imports from all trading partners, including Canada.  At the same time, economic recovery in Cuba also requires expansion of its exports of goods and services.

Is an enduring recuperation of the Cuban economy probable in the next decade or so? First, the driving force for the Cuban economy, namely export earnings, at this time depends mainly on tourism, medical services and nickel exports.  Nickel and tourism should continue to be strong, but the obscured subsidization from Venezuela is over. Cuba’s medical service exports will likely be transitory as other countries develop their own medical systems and increase medical personnel.  Pharmaceutical exports may hold promise in the longer term but have been somewhat disappointing relative to the high hopes once placed in their prospects. Little progress appears imminent regarding the expansion of other merchandise exports. New exports of manufactured products have not appeared on the scene in a significant way and are obstructed by some public policies.

Some continuing problems may prompt skepticism regarding Cuba’s economic prospects in the near future. Among the difficulties often cited are: a dual exchange rate system with negative consequences for export diversification and expansion; a blockage of people’s initiatives, energies and entrepreneurship due to the unwillingness to extend further the reform process especially for medium scale enterprise; and the deterioration of parts of the infrastructure, most notably housing.

The second set of factors that will shape Canada’s future economic relations with Cuba in is Cuba’s policies relating to trade, foreign investment and tourism. These policies are unlikely to undergo dramatic change under Raul Castro’s leadership. This implies that the basic Canadian-Cuban economic relationship should not be affected seriously by changed Cuban policies in the next few years. The state-trading that in part characterizes these relationships is not intrinsically beneficial for Canada.

Thirdly, the complete normalization of U.S. – Cuban relations especially regarding trade and US investment in Cuba, will have a major effect on the Canada-Cuba economic relationship. Complete normalization will permit expansion of Cuban exports, US foreign investment in Cuba, US tourism in Cuba, financial flows and the possibility of open and vigorous collaboration of Cuban-America and Cuban citizens in business activities.  Greater prosperity will be the result.

Normalization with the United States will lead to expanded exports of goods and services to Cuba from the U.S. and vice versa.  This is due to geographic and transport factors.  More frequent freighter connections, high speed hydrofoil passenger boat connections, a re-connection of U.S. and Cuban railway systems and a proliferation of airline connections will lead to a reintegration of the two economies. The diversified U.S. economy can provide a broad range of consumer and capital goods and services competitively with other countries and with low transport costs and quick delivery times.

Canadian exporters to Cuba therefore will face a challenge after US – Cuban normalization. The location and logistical advantages of U.S. exporters, plus the interest, activism and advantages of the Cuban-American business community will outweigh any lingering “goodwill effect” with Canada. Overnight or next-day delivery of products ordered from the U.S. makes continuation of some types of exports from Canada difficult, as delivery from Canada currently may take up to two weeks or more on ships leaving Canada every week or ten days on average.

On the other hand, some of Canada’s current exports to Cuba are competitive with U.S. products and should increase in a post-embargo Cuban economic recovery. This might include fertilizers (potash), cereals, animal feed stocks, lumber, wood and paper products and fabricated non-ferrous metals products. Canada also is competitive in certain types of capital equipment such as minerals machinery and equipment, some paper making equipment, Bombardier aircraft, railway rolling stock and equipment, urban transit vehicles, communications equipment, electrical generation and distribution equipment, and some specialized vehicles. However, some Canadian exports may be threatened by U.S. competition.

In summary, the recovery of the Cuban economy and the increase in foreign exchange receipts that U.S.-Cuban normalization in time should bring about will be of benefit for some Canadian exporters while others may be replaced by U.S. suppliers.  Will the “expansionary effect” outweigh the costs of the “displacement effect” for Canadian exporters?  Perhaps, but this is not assured.

Normalization will also induce U.S. enterprises to invest in Cuba. With no further changes to the foreign investment law and within the current policy environment, one can imagine some but not many U.S. firms entering joint ventures.  But with policy liberalization in a post-Raul Castro situation, one can imagine large numbers of U.S. enterprises investing in Cuba. Cuban-Americans would also enter Cuba to set up small businesses or to finance business ventures with their Cuban relatives or counterparts.  The “geo-economic” gravitational pull of the U.S. will be strong. After U.S.-Cuba rapprochement Canadian trade and investment as a proportion of total trade and investment will likely diminish even though both might increase in absolute terms.

To conclude, there are future uncertainties and challenges regarding the Canadian-Cuban economic relationship.  The character and intensity of future economic performance in Cuba, Cuba’s policy environment and the timing of the complete normalization of relations with the United States are still ambiguous and uncertain. These factors will have mixed effects, but effects that on balance should be positive for Canada and Cuba.

Bibliography

Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2014/permanent/10.aspAccessed October 23, 2016

Cuban Club Resorts. 2000. Web site: www.cubanclubresorts.com

Global Affairs Canada, Cuba – International Development Projects, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/cidaweb/cpo.nsf/fWebCSAZEn?ReadForm&idx=00&CC=CU.  Accessed 3 October 2016

Industry Canada, Trade Data Online (TDO), Trade by Product (HS Codes) http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/tdo-dcd.nsf/eng/Home

Leisure Canada Incorporated. (2000, August, 17). Press Release. Reproduced in   www.cubanet.org

Nolen, Stephanie. 2015. In tourist-deluged Cuba, Canadian firms are noticeably absent. The Globe and Mail December 13.

Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, Cuba.  Anuario Estadistico de Cuba. (Various issues) http://www.one.cu/ . Accessed various times and October 4 2016.

Sequin Rob. 2013. Leisure Canada now a defunct Cuba real estate development brand.  Havana Journal September 25,

 

 

Posted in Blog, Featured | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CUBA’S EMERGING STARTUP SCENE GIVEN A CANADIAN TECH BOOST

Jacob Serebrin

Special to The Globe and Mail, Monday, Feb. 01, 2016 5:00AM EST

Few countries are as technologically isolated as Cuba. Home Internet is rare, data plans are non-existent and, in a country where doctors make the equivalent of around $70 a month, paying almost $3 an hour for government-run WiFi is too steep for many.

Yet, even here, tech startups are beginning to emerge and they’re getting some help from Canada. Montreal technology hub Notman House has launched a program to give Cuba’s nascent startup scene a boost.  The idea of Develop Cuba is to create a seed fund and a way to support and educate the community on how to build an ecosystem,” says Noah Redler, the campus director at Notman House and the initiator of the Develop Cuba project. “The major obstacle they have isn’t around talent, it isn’t around want or desire, it’s literally just that basic seed capital.”

In Cuba, a little money can go a long way. So far, Develop Cuba has raised a few thousand dollars to rent space for startup groups to meet in Havana and bought a projector – a rare piece of equipment in a country where even basic supplies can be hard to find.

The next step will be to send a group of mentors from Montreal to visit Havana and work with local startups. If that goes well, Mr. Redler wants to help open Cuba’s first co-working space. The goal is to build capacity for Cuban startups, he says. While Canadians may be helping to get the project off the ground, it will be led by local people.

Internet usage has grown rapidly since the Cuban government lifted an almost total ban on Web access in 2008. By 2014, the country had more than three million Internet users, a little more than one-quarter of the population, according to Cuba’s national statistics agency. By now, that number is almost certainly higher.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, about a dozen people are gathered in a public square in downtown Havana, looking at their phones. A couple more sit on nearby benches with laptops. It’s a scene that would be unremarkable in Canada, but was extremely rare in Cuba until just a few months ago.

In June, Etecsa, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, cut the price of Internet access in half and opened dozens of new WiFi access points in parks and public squares across the country. More have opened since then. Before that, getting online usually required waiting to use a computer at an Etecsa outlet or a post office; WiFi was rarely found outside of hotel lobbies. Free WiFi is still almost unheard of, and Cubans have to prepay and show ID to get online.

For startups, “the most difficult part is accessing the Internet,” says Martin Proenza, the founder of YoTeLlevo, a website for booking taxis. While his business is generating revenue, it’s not profitable enough for Mr. Proenza to afford home Internet. Instead, he relies on his day job at a government-owned software company for Internet access.

The lack of mobile data means that Cuban apps are generally built to work offline. AlaMesa, an app for finding restaurants, is fully functional without an Internet connection. Its restaurant directory and map are downloaded onto a user’s phone. If a user opens the app when they do have an Internet connection, the database is updated. “Considering the insufficient connectivity infrastructure and cost of Internet access in the country, an offline solution was mandatory,” says Alfonso Ali, AlaMesa’s lead programmer.

But they also face a uniquely Cuban challenge. “Due to U.S. blockade restrictions, we are unable to use PayPal or Stripe,” Mr. Ali says. “So standard operations like online booking, coupons, etc., are very difficult and costly to implement.”

The Cuban government appears to have taken little notice of the country’s growing startup community, but there are fears about what will happen if they do. While economic reforms that began in 2008 have opened the door to an increasing number of private businesses, there are no provisions for tech startups, making them illegal.

“You have to keep yourself under the radar,” Mr. Proenza says. “But is it a big concern? No. Really, the state is not running after people for creating online businesses.”  He does think the government will allow startups to operate legally in the future, and says that’s a view shared by others in the startup community.

In Montreal, Mr. Redler says he sees some hopeful signs – accommodation-rental site Airbnb was allowed to enter the Cuban market earlier this year; there are now over 2,000 listings. But he says he doesn’t expect change to come rapidly.

Despite the challenges, Cuban business owners say they’re optimistic about the future. “The Cuba education system is very good, so it’s very easy to find talented people to work on any field of innovation,” Mr. Ali says.  “We used to say ‘need is the mother of invention,’ so people in Cuba have good talent, skills and the mindset to find solutions to almost any problem.”

zz zzz zzzz

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

THE LEADING CANADIAN EXPERT ON CUBA, MARK ENTWISTLE, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CUBA, ON LATE-NIGHT CHATS WITH FIDEL, THE HARPER YEARS OF DIPLOMACY AND HOW TO DO BUSINESS IN HAVANA

RICHARD BLACKWELL

 The Globe and Mail Last updated: Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 2:52PM

Original: How to Do Business in Havana

When Mark Entwistle was Canada’s ambassador to Cuba in the mid-1990s, a knock on the door of his Havana residence might mean Fidel Castro was dropping by for a chat.

“He had a house that was maybe half a kilometre up from the official residence of the Canadian ambassador,” Mr. Entwistle said. “He used to stop by all the time. By himself. There would be a knock. It would be this big hulking figure, and he would ask if he could come in and say hi and have a gin and tonic. We’d talk in the backyard, we would talk in the living room. It was a quite remarkable thing. I kept pinching myself because … love him or hate him, he is one of the historic figures of our lifetime.”

Mr. Entwistle has parlayed his deep connections into a consultancy practice that helps Canadian and American companies prepare to do business in a Cuba increasingly open to foreign corporate involvement. His work with American firms has exploded since Dec. 17, 2014, the day U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced an unprecedented thaw in relations after more than five decades of distrust and detachment.

Mr. Entwistle is in a unique position to understand the subtleties of the change in U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations. He spent years in Canada’s foreign service, with postings in Israel and the Soviet Union. He then served as spokesman for the department of external affairs and press secretary to prime minister Brian Mulroney, before being sent to Cuba as Canada’s ambassador from 1993 to 1997.

After 15 years running his own consulting firm, he teamed up in 2012 with former Onex Corp. executive Tony Melman, and former politician and Magna International Inc. executive Belinda Stronach, joining their merchant bank Acasta Capital. There, he runs the Cuban advisory arm – a division called Acasta Cuba Capital.

Mr. Mulroney describes Mr. Entwistle as “the leading Canadian expert on Cuba” whose combination of diplomatic and business skills gives him a unique perspective. As ambassador, he was a “sure pair of hands” with a “problem-solver bent,” the former prime minister told me in a brief phone chat. While Cuba is still somewhat archaic with a Byzantine political structure, “Mark is the kind of guy who can guide Canadian and American companies through these different layers of difficulty,” Mr. Mulroney said.

Indeed, Mr. Entwistle has a sophisticated and nuanced take on Cuba and its moves to open up relations with the United States. But I have to admit that his personal anecdotes are what grab my attention most during our three-hour lunch at Sassafraz in Toronto’s Yorkville area. I’m so captivated that by the time I finish my Arctic char and he polishes off his nine-spice roast chicken breast (him much later, as he is doing most of the talking), the restaurant – which had been packed and noisy – is completely empty.

Mr. Entwistle’s close relationship with Fidel, and the degree of access he had to the Cuban government when he was ambassador, was mainly a result of Canada’s unwavering support during the depths of the U.S. chill. “We were players in many ways,” he said. “That is not the case now. There are so many competitors, and now that the Americans have arrived it is sucking up all the oxygen.”

But during Mr. Entwistle’s time as ambassador it was not unusual to get a call in the middle of the night and be summoned to Fidel’s office. “He would ask questions … he was very interested in Canadian politics … what it was like living beside the United States.” Sometimes Fidel would come to the Canadian ambassador’s residence for formal dinners, especially if Pierre Trudeau – then long retired – was in town. Mr. Trudeau was “one of the very few people that I ever saw Fidel sit and listen to, in true listening mode, not interrupting [or] formulating what he was going to say next,” Mr. Entwistle said. “It was not a mentor role, because Fidel Castro would never have a mentor. It was as an inadvertent confident. It was personally very important to Fidel.”

As a former diplomat, Mr. Entwistle is hesitant to use harsh words, but he is unequivocal about Canada’s weak efforts to take advantage of our long-standing warm relationship with Cuba. “I think it has been squandered,” he said, although “it is not gone. It is still there. The Cubans, in a way, are waiting for us to come back.”

Aside from mass tourism, and the operations of Toronto-based mining giant Sherritt International Corp., “there is effectively no major Canadian [business] play in Cuba. Against the backdrop of history, of what we used to share together, the Cubans find it odd.”

Some, but not all of the blame, can be placed on the Stephen Harper government, which was leery of appearing to be too close to a communist regime, Mr. Entwistle said. The relationship “has never been hostile, even in the glacial period of the Harper years. It was just benign neglect. The relationship is in sort of an auto-pilot mode, with the exception of all our tourists, who drink the mojitos.”

With a new government in Ottawa, and the Americans ready to descend on Cuba, it is time for us to refresh the relationship and take advantage of an economy poised for takeoff, Mr. Entwistle said. “Canada has been gifted an asset, which is years of unbroken diplomatic relations. It is to this day recognized in Cuba. We get given space that we probably don’t deserve. We are given a hearing … But the goodwill has a half life [and] it has been ticking away for a long time.”

It may not be too late to take advantage of the relationship, but if Mr. Entwistle’s business in the United States is any indication, we need to get moving, and soon.

American business sees Cuba as a potential gold mine since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the lifting of some sanctions, he said. Havana is “humming and buzzing” with Americans ready to take advantage of the new relationship – but the U.S. trade embargo is still in place and it is unclear how the complex web of restrictions can be lifted without support in Congress.

Some potential U.S. investors are trying what Mr. Entwistle calls “crazy stuff” such as attempting to buy up beachfront property – even though it is owned by the state. But many others are making more cautious overtures.

The real game changer, he said, would be a further climb-down in travel restrictions, to allow general tourism from the U.S. – letting average Americans see the place for themselves. Some estimates suggest four million Americans would go in the first year after the ban is lifted – a tsunami of visitors Cuba could not handle at the moment.

Despite the U.S. business curiosity, Cubans are intent that a renewed domination of their economy by Americans will not occur, Mr. Entwistle said, and they are not prepared to revamp their political structures at the behest of the United States. Cubans are, psychologically, much more independent than they were before the revolution, he said. “They have discovered the value of their own assets, which they didn’t truly understand before.”

There will likely be some further political reforms after Raul Castro steps down as president in 2018, Mr. Entwistle said, including a move to a more representative government. But that will happen on Cuba’s own terms, and not in response to U.S. pressure. Indeed, he said, awkward U.S. efforts to use intelligence programs in Cuba to push for regime change – such as a recent attempt to get Cuban hip-hop artists to put anti-government content in their lyrics – is counterproductive.

In the meantime, Americans – or Canadians – who listen carefully to what the Cubans want in terms of economic development, and are patient in nurturing relationships on the island, could do very well there, he added.

Many Americans Mr. Entwistle takes to Cuba for the first time are “bug eyed” about what they see. “They have big saucer eyes, and they are usually quite nervous going in because they have been brought up believing it to be a prison camp,” he said. “Then they say ‘This a normal county. There are no tanks on the street.’ ”

Eventually, the American entrepreneurial instinct kicks in, Mr. Entwistle says. “The business guys’ antennas start bouncing like crazy. They say: ‘Oh my God … the opportunities here!’”

 z

Gary McMahon (IDRC), Ambassador Mark Entwisle, Francisco Leon, UN CEPAL) and Lourdes Tabares U de La Habana). at the inauguration of the Carleton University – University of Havana Masters Program in Economics, Havana, November 1993

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CAN CANADA FULLY LEVERAGE ITS UNIQUE TRADE RELATIONSHIP WITH CUBA?

Canadian Sailings: December 3, 2015 @ 8:32 am

Original Source:        http://www.canadiansailings.ca/?p=10739

By Alan M. Field

zzzzzzzzzzStarved for new markets to conquer, American exporters and investors are avidly awaiting the imminent end of the fifty-five year-old U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. Given the current abundance of Cuba-focused business conferences, seminars and traveling delegations to the island-nation, Canadians might well be wondering whether the mania for all things Cuban in the U.S. will also provide a golden opportunity for Canadians to leverage their unique ties with Cuba. Or will it, on the contrary, signal the end to that special relationship at precisely the time when the rest of the world has discovered Cuba?

Trade relations between Canada and Cuba originated during the era when vessels from the Atlantic provinces of Canada traded codfish and beer in Cuba for that country’s rum and sugar. “Canada has been a major trading partner with Cuba dating back to the 1800s,” notes Arch Ritter, an economist at Carleton University, who has written extensively about Cuba’s economic history. “Our ties have been longstanding, and we have never cut trade ties with Cuba.”

Over the past few decades, trade ties between the two countries have grown significantly, but remain modest compared with the volumes that could follow the end of the U.S. trade embargo, and the re-opening of U.S. foreign investment in Cuba. In August 2015, bilateral trade between Canada and Cuba amounted to $100.7 million [Canadian dollars], compared with just $58.4 million in August 2000, and only $33 million in August 1990. From 2000 to 2008, the value of Canadian exports to Canada grew at an annual rate of 11 per cent, while imports from Cuba grew at a rate of 10 per cent. Ontario is the largest provincial exporter to Cuba, followed by Quebec. Manitoba and British Columbia have been the fastest-growing provincial exporters in recent years, according to a report by the Library of Parliament in Ottawa.

Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to Cuba (1993-1997) and a founding partner of Acasta Capital, a Toronto-based investment firm, recalls the long decades when Canadian diplomats were the only representatives of any Western democracy at Havana cocktail parties, “Among Western democracies, Canada is the only one that never broke relations with Cuba even once,” Entwistle added.

Canadians imported Cuban sugar, rum and cigars, while exporting a lot of machinery and equipment that “Cuba could no longer get from the United States,” explained Ritter. During the 1990s, when the Soviet Union stopped subsidizing Cuba, the island’s economy “really deteriorated,” added Ritter, “and ties with Canada really intensified. Cuba decided it needed tourism, so it promoted that sector. We became the big tourist country for Cuba, and people said, ‘Cuba’s best friend is the Canadian winter.’” Nowadays, Cuba ranks as the third-most popular overseas destination for Canadians – after only the United States and Mexico – while Canada is Cuba’s largest source of foreign tourists; over one million Canadians visit each year, or more than 40 per cent of all foreign visitors to Cuba.

Burned by Cuba’s ups and downs

During the 1990s, Cuba opened up its economy “a little bit” to foreign enterprises, added Ritter. The mining sector became the focal point of great activity as “a lot of Canadian companies went down there to see if they could prove any commercially viable mineral resources. They all came back empty-handed after a few years, but they were really optimistic because Russia had done the surveying. The Canadian companies thought they just needed to do the work on the ground,” Ritter went on. It turned out that things weren’t so simple.

Other Canadian enterprises went there, but few were successful, noted Ritter. “There were Canadian hotels that pulled out. There was interest in time-share condominiums, and the Cubans changed their mind on that, so that did not go forward. More recently, in the late 2000s, a number of Canadian enterprises made arrangements to invest fairly massive amounts of money in golf courses and related resorts. But those have been put back on the shelf; nothing has happened. I think the Cubans changed their minds [about that],” lamented Ritter. Overall, “The rules have been so fuzzy that every decision is sort of a customized ad hoc decision. The rules of the game come down to case by case decisions by Cubans.”

The only major Canadian firm to enjoy enduring success was Toronto-based Sherritt International, a resource company with interests in nickel and cobalt mining, oil and gas exploration and production, and electricity generation. Ritter said that Sherritt has been “wildly successful for Cuba and for Sherritt.” However, Sherritt’s huge success has not been repeated by other Canadian firms in the Cuban energy sector. In 2009, Pebercan, Inc., a Montreal-based oil producer, was notified by the Cuban government that it would scrap its production-sharing contract with the Canadian firm. That contract, signed by Pebercan and the Cuban government in 1993, had been scheduled to expire in 2018. Neither party to the contract ever announced any reason for the government’s decision to cancel it.

Goodwill is like an isotope that is trickling down

George Petrolekas, a former Marketing Director of a Canadian telecom, who has traveled on business in Cuba, said that former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government “has been less receptive to links with Cuba than previous governments, which were Liberal.” During the late 1990s, “The most receptive Canadian governments were probably those of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and Jean Chretien, to a lesser extent.” Petrolekas said that Harper has been “far harder on Cuba” than other Prime Ministers, such as Brian Mulroney.

Entwistle argues that even under left-leaning Canadian Prime Ministers, Canada has not taken full advantage of existing opportunities to promote Canadian corporate exporters and investors. “Truth be told, no Canadian government of any political stripe has exercised the full weight of instruments available to it for things like trade promotion.” Entwistle believes that Export Development Canada (EDC), which provides Canadian exporters with financing, has “never been overly active in Cuba, in terms of supporting Canadian business. Canadian business has done its own thing in Cuba, regardless of the government.”

Nor have there been a sufficient number of high-level visitors from Ottawa, waving the Canadian flag to drum up new business. Entwistle said, “There have been some political visits; Pierre Trudeau came in 1976; he was the first NATO-member state leader to do so. [Jean] Chretien also went—partly because Trudeau went.” Would it help if the next Canadian Prime Minister paid such a visit? “Hypothetically, if you had a Liberal government, there would be some explosion of activity on the part of the government of Canada in pursuing its relationship; but I think it will probably be business as usual. No government does tremendous damage to the relationship because it does tend to have its own rhythm, and you have this huge number of Canadians who go as tourists; well over a million a year.”

The sluggishness of the relationship defies the rosy expectations of earlier generations of Canadian business leaders. “At least one generation of Canadians in public life always believed that Canada had a special relationship with Cuba,” Entwistle continued. There was an assumption that “this relationship would translate into some sort of privileged access; an ability to leverage the relationship; to acquire things or positions – decisions from the government of Cuba that we want to see. The whole Canadian foreign policy establishment believed that for a long time.”

This presumption of privileged access has turned out to be false, said Entwistle. “While Cubans are very respectful of Canada and they value the relationship very much, we don’t have any special access or privileges in Cuba. We’re in competition with everyone else; you have to earn your keep; earn your way.” Ritter agreed that “Canadians had said for so long that we had built up a lot of goodwill in Cuba – and that it would pay off in the future.” Not true. And yet as early as 2002, when President George W. Bush enabled U.S. exports of pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs to Cuba, Canadians were disappointed with the reaction of their Cuban customers. As soon as lower-priced food became available from the United States, the Cubans switched to it, despite the ongoing U.S. trade embargo in other product sectors. Canada’s business activity in Cuba has been further hampered by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which penalizes all foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business legally in the United States.

Reviving the special relationship

Overall, argued Entwistle, “Canada has an asset that has been created by the 70 years of unbroken ties, but it is being squandered. The goodwill of the relationship on which Canada dined out for a long time is like an isotope with a half-life. It is trickling down and has not been replenished sufficiently. ”

What measures would Entwistle take with respect to Cuba if he were Prime Minister of Canada? First of all, “I would increase the number of political visits at the ministerial level. In a country like Cuba, those kinds of visits, led by [cabinet level] ministers have real value. They signify the importance of the relationship; they provide entrée and access to senior decision makers in the Cuban government. [Canada’s] global competitors have been very active in this. “

In the wake of the normalization of U.S. diplomatic ties with Cuba, senior ministers from several major trading nations have descended on Havana in recent months, accompanied by senior executives from major corporations headquartered in those countries. For example, the President of France brought some 70 French companies; the Spanish prime minister, almost the same number; and likewise from Mexico and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Canadian leadership have undertaken no such large-scale missions in Cuba, of late, perhaps out of a sense that such missions are not necessary, given the decades of mutual goodwill. Despite Canada’s world-famous expertise in telecommunications, Orange S.A., the French telecom company, signed a deal to assist in the development of Cuba’s (government monopoly) telephone network in July 2014. “It’s the kind of deal we could have done, but we just didn’t bother to go there and do it,” Entwistle said.

What role can Canadians play in the Cuba of the future?

The Cuban government has outlined the important role to be played by foreign investment flows in the sustainable development of the country. In 2014, Cuba’s minister for foreign trade and investment said on state TV that the country needs a sufficient volume of foreign capital in order to achieve its economic growth target of 7 per cent a year. Its goal is attract $2 billion to $2.5 billion in foreign direct investments each year, notes Philip Peters, President of the Cuba Research Center. Peters says that target is “pretty ambitious,” given the fact during the entire 1990s, Cuba managed to attract a total of only $4 billion to $5 billion in inward foreign investment.

What will that expansion mean for Canadians? Economist Ritter believes that there are two ways of looking at the ultimate impact of the arrival of so many Americans on Cuban soil. One of those ways is positive; the other is negative. “There will be two kinds of effect. One will be a squeezing out effect in some areas. But there isn’t that much to be squeezed out, so I don’t think we lose so much,” added Ritter, in terms of current Canadian market share in Cuba; given the limited range of Canadian success stories in the world of industry.

When it comes to the tourism sector, there is a divergence of views. Ritter said that “a second squeezing-out effect will take place in the tourism industry, as the tsunami of tourists arrives from the United States. They could squeeze out a lot of Canadians,” given the fact that the typical Canadian tourist in Cuba has a more modest budget than his or her counterpart from the United States. Other analysts, including Entwistle, believe that there will be plenty of room in Cuba – the largest island in the Caribbean – for tourists traveling on all kinds of budgets, from modest cottages suitable for hippies to jet-set plutocrats. The key is to build the infrastructure that supports that expansion for all segments of the market. That’s an area where Canada can fill the gap with additional capital.

A range of enticing new opportunities may open for Canadians to export to Cuba and invest in that country, in partnership with Americans and other newcomers to the island. If the newly pragmatic Cuban government is as transparent as optimists say it will be, Canadians will be making more money in Cuba even if they wind up owning a smaller share of a much larger Cuban pie. Some Canadian companies could play a key role as intermediaries; consultants who advise and partner with U.S. companies that don’t already know Cuba the way a handful of Canadians know it. Apart from their greater familiarity with Cuba, argues Petrolekas, Canadians have this advantage: “There is not a sense that we [Canadians] are there to exploit Cubans. They like us from that standpoint. There are enough companies that operate cross-border between the U.S. and Canada, and we can certainly assist in that.”

How Canadians can improve their chances of success in Cuba

What steps can Canadians take to improve their chances of success? Entwistle notes that “the trick to improving your chances in Cuba is to align [your initiatives] with the Cuban government’s priorities, which have more to do with the real, basic economy than with the bells and whistles of advanced high-technology [economies]. The Cubans are remarkably smart. They have a home-grown leadership that is very serious, very earnest, analytical and methodical.”

Entwistle advises Canadians to study the priorities outlined in the 2014 foreign investment law, which target agricultural development; basic manufacturing, including such substitutes for imports as glass bottles and aluminum cans; and renewable energy, including wind power. In the past, Cuba has benefitted from low-priced, subsidized energy imports from Venezuela, but that country has been suffering economic and political disarray. That makes it riskier than ever for Cuba to depend on Venezuela for low-priced energy imports in the future, industry analysts agree. Another Cuban priority is biotechnology: Close to a dozen biotech institutes have been built in Cuba; meanwhile, Novartis and AstraZeneca – two European pharma companies – have a significant presence in the country.

Tourism remains particularly enticing. Cuba is looking for foreign partners to expand its hotel sector infrastructure quickly, in preparation for the huge flood of American tourists. Canadians may also be able to leverage growing demand for ‘medical tourism,’ which could develop into a huge source of revenue for the island, and for joint-venture partners from capitalist countries. World-famous for its quality, the Cuban medical system is offering medical services for Canadians via Health Services International (Servimed), an agency officially recognized by Cuba’s national medical system. Demand for such services is expected to grow, as well, in the United States, once full trade relations are normalized.

In conclusion, cautions Entwistle, “Cuba is not an economy that is for profiteering in any way; or for get-rich schemes, or getting in and out. This is a long-haul, strategic, patient market that is evolving in front of our eyes; at a very Cuban pace. You need a longer term vision. The companies that have been successful in Cuba have that long term vision, which allows them to ride the fluctuations of the daily ups and downs of doing the actual business. My advice is do less pitching and more listening. And if your business is in areas that are Cuba’s priorities, then you have a real good chance.” If he’s right, Canadians’ cultural aversion to flashy, get-rich-quick salesmanship could work out to their advanta

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment