Tag Archives: Cuba-Canada Relations

TRUDEAU’S CUBA CONTORTIONS PAINFUL TO WATCH

Yvon GrenierJJuly 19, 2021

“While the nationwide popular protests of July 11-12 in Cuba prompted governments around the world to take clear stands on this unprecedented event, the Trudeau government was hesitant,” writes Yvon Grenier. – Reuters

Original Article: Trudeau’s Cuba Contortions

YVON GRENIER • Guest Opinion

Yvon Grenier is a professor, department of political science and resident fellow, Mulroney Institute of Government, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish

That was an interesting week in Canada-Cuba relations! While the nationwide popular protests of July 11-12 in Cuba prompted governments around the world to take clear stands on this unprecedented event, Ottawa was clumsy and hesitant.

As of July 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made two short comments, and only when pressed by journalists to speak about Havana’s repression of those protests.

On July 13, Trudeau gave a dry run to a neutral statement: “Canada has always stood in friendship with the Cuban people,” and added: “We have always called for greater freedoms and more defence of human rights in Cuba. We will continue to be there to support Cubans in their desire for greater peace, greater stability and greater voice in how things are going.” 

Couldn’t that comment be applied to almost any country — even democratic and stable ones?

This hesitancy to point the finger at the Cuban regime was not a surprise from this prime minister. He got into trouble for his strange tribute to Fidel Castro in 2016, saying, for instance, that Castro’s “supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people.” No, his detractors will never recognize that. 

That was only days after a gushing speech he delivered at the University of Havana, in which he said, astonishingly, that amicable relations with communist Cuba was “one of the ways we reassure ourselves that we are our own country.” Canada’s national identity must be pathetically weak indeed.

Back to the present. On July 15, as the Cuban dictatorship’s repression could not be denied, came Trudeau’s second statement — again prompted by a pesky journalist (Got to love them!): “We’re deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protests by the Cuban regime. We condemn the arrests and repression by authorities of peaceful demonstration.” 

He added: “We stand, as we always will, with the people of Cuba who want and deserve democracy, freedom and respect.”

He did not shift the blame to the U.S. embargo, as the NDP and other voices from the left did, in chorus with countries like Iran and Russia. (The NDP statement also mentions the party’s “support for the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly.”)

Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada went on automatic pilot. On July 13, according to the CBC, a spokesperson described how they were “closely monitoring the situation in Cuba,” and dusted off some boilerplate statements on how “all parties” should “exercise restraint” and “engage in peaceful and inclusive dialogue.” 

Those normally apply to violent conflicts with two or more armed groups, not to a violent government crackdown of peaceful protests. Global Affairs reiterated that “Canada supports the right of freedom of expression and assembly.” But again, absurdly, it called “on all parties to uphold this fundamental right.” 

During that week, Global Affairs made public statements on Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s meetings with both the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, both of whom had already made clear and forceful statements on the situation in Cuba. Global Affairs mentions discussions on many countries: Haiti, Afghanistan, Belarus, Venezuela, Nicaragua, others. But not Cuba, even though it was most probably discussed.

In 2016, when a Canadian journalist asked Trudeau point-blank if the regime built by Fidel Castro was a dictatorship, he responded (after a pregnant pause) “yes.” A hint of reason over passion; or at least, over a very Canadian naiveté, afforded by decades of unthinking “engagement” with a repressive regime. Recent developments forced the Trudeau government to turn off the automatic pilot and really think about how Cubans are ruled.

 In all likelihood, Canada will “continue to be there to support Cubans” if and when they undertake a transition to democracy. There might be some muddling through getting to that point, but the arc of Trudeau’s aggiornamento on Cuba now seems to point in the direction of reason governing a more mature policy toward this beautiful country moving forward. It just took a crisis to get out of the comfort zone.

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New Publication, CUBAN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT 60

Reflections on Global Connections

Edited by Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker – Contributions by Mervyn J. Bain; Jeffrey DeLaurentis; H. Michael Erisman; Liliana Fernández Mollinedo; Adrian Hearn; Rafael Hernández; John M. Kirk; Peter Kornbluh; William LeoGrande; Robert L. Muse; Isaac Saney; Paolo Spadoni; Josefina Vidal and Chris Walker

Cuban International Relations at 60 brings together the perspectives of leading experts and the personal accounts of two ambassadors to examine Cuba’s global engagement and foreign policy since January 1959 by focusing on the island’s key international relationships and issues. Thisbook’s first section focuseson Havana’s complex relationship with Washington and its second section concentrates on Cuba’s other key relationships with consideration also being given to Cuba’s external trade and investment sectors and the possibility of the island becoming a future petro-power. Throughout this study due attention is given to the role of history and Cuban nationalism in the formation of the island’s unique foreign policy. This book’s examination and reflection on Cuba as an actor on the international arena for the 60 years of the revolutionary period highlights the multifaceted and complex reasons for the island’s global engagement. It concludes that Cuba’s global presence since January 1959 has been remarkable for a Caribbean island, is unparalleled, and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Scholars of international relations, Latin American studies, and political science n will find this book particularly interesting.

Lexington Books

Pages: 306 • Trim: 6 x 9

978-1-7936-3018-6 • Hardback • May 2021 • $110.00 • (£85.00)

978-1-7936-3019-3 • eBook • May 2021 • $45.00 • (£35.00) (coming soon)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections (1959-2019)

Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker.

Part I: Cuban – U.S. Relations

Chapter 1 The Process of Rapprochement Between Cuba and the United States: Lessons Learnt. Remarks at the “The Cuban Revolution at 60” conference. Dalhousie University, Halifax, October 31, 2019.  Josefina Vidal

Chapter 2 US-Cuban Relations: Personal Reflections. Remarks by Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis. Saturday, November 2, 2019  Jeffrey DeLaurentis

Chapter 3 Coercive Diplomacy or Constructive Engagement: Sixty Years of US Policy Toward Cuba.  William LeoGrande

Chapter 4 The President has the Constitutional Power to Terminate the Embargo.  Robert L. Muse

Chapter 5 [Re]Searching for the ‘Havana Syndrome’.  Peter Kornbluh

Chapter 6 From Eisenhower to Trump: A Historical Summary of the US-Cuba Conflict (1959-2020).  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo

Part II: Cuba on the Global Stage

Chapter 7 Cuba is Africa, Africa is Cuba.  Isaac Saney

Chapter 8 Cuba-Canada Relations: Challenges and Prospects.  John Kirk

Chapter 9 Cuba-China Relations and the Construction of Socialism.  Adrian H. Hearn and Rafael Hernández

Chapter 10 Cuba-European Union Relations. A Complex and Multifaceted Relationship.  Liliana Fernández Mollinedo and Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 11 Havana and Moscow; Now, the Future and the Shadow of the Past.  Mervyn J. Bain

Chapter 12 Havana and Caracas: Counter-Hegemonic Cooperation and the Battle for Sovereignty. Chris Walker

Chapter 13 Cuba’s Struggling External Sector: Internal Challenges and Outside Factors.  Paolo Spadoni

Chapter 14 Cuba as a Petropower? Foreign Relations Implications. H. Michael Erisman

Conclusions: Reflections on Cuba’s Global Connections.  Mervyn J. Bain and Chris Walker

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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

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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.”

 

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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

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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,

 

 

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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.”

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