Canada’s role in the U.S./Cuba rapprochement

Old American car in Havanna with the Capitol in the Background. Image: Severin.stalder, Creative Commons.

Old American car in Havanna with the Capitol in the Background. Image: Severin.stalder, Creative Commons.

Headlines are supposed to be simple attention grabbers, without words that throw the reader off. But “rapprochement” is just the right term for what’s been announced. As defined by Merriam-Webster, it means “the development of friendlier relations between countries or groups of people who have been enemies”.

This past week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro surprised many with news that diplomatic relations will be normalized. (Read/hear both announcements here, from President Obama and President Castro.)

Fully lifting the embargo that dates from 1960 would require further Congressional action. But this news represents a huge shift in a major geo-political deadlock.

The unsung supporting players for this development are reported to include Pope Francis and Canada.

While Canada is usually thrilled to be a player on the world stage, this case is slightly awkward because the current government has been a vocal critic of the Castro regime.

Even while criticizing political repression in Cuba, Canada has long favored (and practiced) relatively  normal relations with that nation, often to great displeasure in U.S. circles.

Many of the secret talks (labeled “indispensible” by senior Obama administration officials) that lead to this major announcement were held in Canada.

As reported by Stewart Bell for the Ottawa Citizen:

“Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after the surprise announcement.

On friendly terms with both nations, and trusted not to leak news of the delicate talks, Canada was uniquely placed to host the delegations, said Prof. Dane Rowlands, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked about Canada’s role in a major year-end interview on CBC. On Cuba, Harper had this to say:

“I think that’s an economy and a society just overdue for entry into the 21st century. Time will tell, but I think probably when the current generation of leadership passes you’ll see some changes,” Harper said.

The prime minister added that he looked forward to seeing democratic elections in Cuba.

“This is really the only place where there are elections that are completely non-competitive. And it would be nice to see that happen in Cuba and I think eventually it will.”

Opposition leaders in Canada welcomed the development too, as recounted by the Ottawa Citizen.

“I thank our Canadian diplomats for their hard work on this file,” NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said in a statement. “This is what diplomacy looks like, and Canada is very good at it. Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau characterized the change as a constructive, welcome development and praised Canada’s role in bringing nations together. (Note: Fidel Castro and Pierre Trudeau had a long friendship. Castro attended the senior Trudeau’s state funeral in 2000.)

The downside for Canadians may come in terms of having to share what had been a semi-exclusive Caribbean get away spot with throngs of eager Americans.

The Ottawa Citizen reports Canadians make up 36% of tourists in Cuba. Indeed, Cuba is Canada’s third most popular travel destination after the U.S. and Mexico. More than a million Canadians traveled to Cuba 2012 alone, contributing an estimated $748 million to the Cuban economy.

This Toronto Star article suggests the entry of American tourists could diminish the Canadian tourist experience there.

Jury Krytiuk, head of the Cuban travel department at Toronto-area agency A. Nash Travel Inc., says an affordable vacation in a relatively pristine landscape will be harder to come by in the years to come.

Prices will surge as restrictions on American travellers ease, he said, adding Cuba will also have to adjust its tourism infrastructure to accommodate an influx of new visitors.

“There’s a limited amount of accommodation, so there’s going to have to be a lot of hotels built, especially in the cities, to accommodate people who want to visit,” Krytiuk said in a telephone interview.

The Washington Post put all that in this headline: “Great news, America: Canada says you’e going to like Cuba

The New York Times had this Q & A on “How Travel to Cuba May Change“. The article says it’s too early to know what shifts will come, or when. But interest is decidedly keen.

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30 Comments on “Canada’s role in the U.S./Cuba rapprochement”

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  1. Two Cents says:

    does this mean America can get Miami back in the trade?

  2. The Original Larry says:

    What’s the upside for the US in this move? The upside for Obama is obvious: he aims to be seen as a statesman. Meanwhile, Syria burns, Russia descends into chaos, Iran’s nuclear program advances, etc. Instead, we get another poorly thought out scheme that’s going to backfire on the American people. This is incompetence masquerading as leadership.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    I’ll bet there are Americans who are hoping trade will soon allow them to buy and import some of those well kept cars from the 50’s.
    Also, many are already panning for vacations in Cuba.

  4. Mr. Kent says:

    Original Larry…Your comment is just mindless hatred of all things Obama. Same blind stupidity exhibited by some leaders of the GOP.
    Think clearly for one minute and throw politics out of it. First, the business, especially the American Agriculture Business totally disagrees with your thinking and is pushing for relations with Cuba to improve for economic benefits and expanded markets. got it?
    Secondly, regarding Russia, this is exactly the right time to open relations with Cuba. Russia and Venezuela have propped up Castro for years and now they CANNOT because their oil dependent economies have domestic issues to deal with. They do not have any money to throw at Cuba right now. Get it? brilliant timing by the Obama administration IF the Republican obstructionist in congress decide to govern instead of playing election politics and gas throwing.
    Now do a little history research and you will see that communist countries like china and Russia did not relax their ideology until AFTER we had opened relations WITH them. Blue Jeans, Rock and Roll and cell phones win the cold war, not bombs.
    Now ask your self this simple question: If what you have been doing for the last 50 years has not gained any results you were looking for, then don’t ya think, maybe, just maybe you might want to try a different approach? Well? what ya think Larry?
    Iran? ah come on. Are they our problem? Honestly? Or are they the problem of their neighbors? Who they gonna nuke if they had nukes and a system to deploy them? Duh! You sound like McCain and the neo cons who never found a place that they did not want to go to war with. What a bunch of maroons. You really think Israel needs our help to deal with the Iranians? thin about it Lucy. They could not win a ten year war against Sadam’s third rate military. A military we destroyed in weeks. Iran is not china or russia or even France for Pete’s sake.
    You can hate anything Obama all you want, or you could apply the even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, but this is brilliant timing and statesmanship and good for America and Cuba and the rest of the world. Jeesh!

  5. The Original Larry says:

    Before you call someone a moron, you ought to learn to spell it correctly. Enough said about that; I think the tone of your comments speaks for itself. As for the substantive (I use that word loosely) part of your comments, I think it’s naive to discount the threat of a nuclear armed Iran. Thinking it all the way through, something Obama clearly hasn’t done, who wouldn’t be disturbed by the possibility of Iran and Israel lobbing nukes at each other across the world’s oil supply? Thanks to Obama’s lack of a well thought out foreign policy, we are in no position to influence anyone’s behavior in that arena. Thanks to his Cuba “policy” we can at least look forward to an influx of talented baseball players and some great vacations. Beyond that, what? I don’t hate Obama, not at all. It’s more disappointment mixed with fear of the consequences.

  6. Mr. Kent says:

    Original Larry..Honest and truly, I am laughing here. Maroon, as in the old cartoons, Bugs Bunny often used line ” what a maroon.” Enough said about that. Guess it was a bit too cryptic for you.

    I am glad you did not try to argue with the facts. always a good idea. Obama is so far above and beyond the asinine foreign policies of the GW Bush neo cons that it is not even arguable. so smart guy, what SHOULD we do? Huh? Tell me what is better than what we are doing now? Sanctions are working according to measurable economic standards. Are you a nuke em guy cause that works so well? Just what is your solution and desired response?

    You never did tell me why the failed policies we have used with Cuba the last 50 years should continue. You avoid the most obvious question. why? No, Obama and his people have thought this through and you know it, it is just not what you want to hear and God forbid the man should do anything right.

    Your reasons given in your original comment are faulty and factually unsupportable. Thats all. It does not make you a bad guy, just ill or misinformed. You can opine as you want, it is just that there is rarely empirical data to support your opinion.

    As I said earlier, there are business factions that totally disagree with you and economic numbers say you are wrong. The only backfiring on America that we have heard is from the last 50 years from Cuba.

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Einstein.

    And there you have it….why do you try to defend the indefensible?

  7. The Original Larry says:

    Mr. Kent: sorry for taking your maroon comment so seriously. I won’t make that mistake again. So, Obama has thought out his Cuba policy? The Castro brothers whored themselves to Russia and Venezuela and now, after more than 50 years of watching them front for our enemies, we’re telling them all is forgiven? Again I ask: what will it get us? Ask any Cuban-American what they think of this.

  8. Mr. Kent says:

    The Original Larry.
    What is to forgive? It all started with the Spanish American War and then we did the imperial colonial thing there and not very well. American influence was mafia gambling casinos and prostitutes. We helped create Castro.

    We forgive China whose soldiers killed/wounded 128,000 Americans in the Korean War. Vietnam 58,000 dead, 153,000 wounded. We are in bed with the Saudi’s who gave us Bin Laden and a lot of other terrorists. What has Cuba EVER done to us? Ever. Oh, they sought help from the only countries that would help them. And whose fault is that?

    What good does it do us? Plenty. We have NO influence over them now,none. But we can replace the influence Russia and Venezuela have over them. The missile crisis ring a bell? Would it not be better to get between Russia and Cuba? I say of course it would. And there is the agriculture part of it, they want to market there badly. And consider this. We have NO immigration policy with Cuba since the 60s. All Cubans have to do is get here and say ” I am a political prisoner.” We cannot prove it so we let them in and skip the whole legal immigration thing completely. How do you think Miami got so big with them. How many of them were really just petty criminals who got out? A lot. Then the whole boat people thing where he dumped his worst on us. It would help control the flood of Cubans to this country.

    Cuba is close to us. Very close. Better to have some kind of relations and dialogue with your neighbor than someone far, far away.

    Sorry, but it makes sense on a lot of levels.

  9. “We shouldn’t restart relations with Cuba because of their human rights abuses.” -The conservatives who’ve spent the last month being apologists for various human rights abuses.

  10. The Original Larry says:

    Next we’ll hear what great humanitarians Fidel and Raul are and what a model of Socialism Cuba has been. Only the truly desperate can see this as a plus. What’s next? Maybe Obama can beg for peace from North Korea.

  11. Walker says:

    Uh, Larry, that’s a total failure to engage Mr. Kent’s arguments. Maybe you could be honest and say, “You’re right.” But you don’t play that way, do you?

  12. The Original Larry says:

    As always, the liberal descent into sophistry, and when that doesn’t work, ridicule.

  13. Walker says:


  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    In the end it comes down to looking at foreign policy strategies and determining which are effective and which are not.
    Republican presidents have found “constructive engagement” (I use this term in quotes because there are technical definitions- like the policy Reagan had toward trade with apartheid South Africa – and more general uses) to be useful in many situations. For whatever reason nobody felt that was a good policy toward Cuba in spite of the fact that decade followed decade followed decade (I could do this for a total of 5 times) of the policy of disengagement not working – except to make the lives of Cubans worse.

    As everyone knows the reason for our continued embargo was not because anyone thought it was working but to assuage the extremist Cuban community in Florida.

    For some reason conservatives seem to believe that the United States of America is like a person, as if political and diplomatic policies can be anthropomorphized – as if we are the John Wayne country and John Wayne don’t apologize and John Wayne don’t beg. John Wayne had no problem with torture though – I seen it in a movie with my very own eyes.
    So, to sum up for all you kids out there trying to learn a little from your elders: being a war criminal thug good, talking over differences bad.

  15. The Original Larry says:

    The other day I was accused of “mindless hatred” for saying that I thought Obama hadn’t considered all the implications of his new Cuba policy. Today, I read that Cuba has no intention of giving up Assata Shakur, aka Joanne Chesimard. She has been living in Cuba since escaping prison in NJ in the late 70’s, where she was serving a life sentence for the murder of a NJ State Trooper. This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. It sends a terrible message and I wonder if Obama doesn’t know or doesn’t care or thinks it doesn’t matter. What was he thinking about?

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Maybe he was thinking about the terrible message it sends to hold innocent people in detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
    Maybe he was thinking that no nation has a perfect record but that we should work together to resolve those imperfections.

  17. Walker says:

    What’s the terrible message, Larry?

  18. The Original Larry says:

    One of many is that we are willing to normalize relations with a regime that shelters the convicted murderer of an American police officer.

  19. The Original Larry says:

    Another terrible message is the one Obama’s Cuba policy sends to Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria (among others): we are willing to normalize relations with them without any significant reform or change on their part.

  20. Mr. Kent says:

    In what universe is Cuba like North Korea or Iran? Do they have nuclear capability or are trying to get it and it is a big secret? Have they invaded or made war on some countries and the history books omitted it? do they even have a Navy or an Air Force? Are they sending terrorists around the world to kill Americans and infidels? That is a total diversion and completely irrelevant to the discussion regarding Cuba/US relations. A canard.
    Just how many criminals who were being sought in Cuba for Murder and rape and sundry other crimes left to escape prosecution and jail time and came to America claiming political amnesty and we gave it to them? Hundreds? Thousands? should we agree to a exchange of all persons sought by each country before we agree on anything else? That could get ugly.
    Like it or not, relations with Cuba are about to change with or without congress playing right wing feed the lemmings games. A President has broad powers in this matter granted by the Constitution and President Obama is done, apparently, waiting for congress to do anything but ridicule and ignore and hide their head in the sands over everything and anything.
    And that, as they say, is the bottom line.

  21. Walker says:

    Larry, we’re the Abu Ghraib nation. We’re the Guantanamo nation. We’re the land that spawned Dick Cheney and John Yoo. I could go on…

  22. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Ouch! That Dick Cheney comment hurt!.

  23. The Original Larry says:

    You usually do go on, Walker, and the first target of your criticism is always the USA. The subject was Obama’s Cuba policy and all you’ve got is a list of our sins. I don’t deny that we are guilty of some but it’s sad that’s all you can see. Also, as far as I know, we aren’t harboring any convicted murderers from countries we want to be friends with.

  24. Walker says:

    That’s not all I can see regarding the U.S. I just don’t think we have a real bully pulpit to stand on from which to lecture other countries on their morals. Your mileage may vary.

  25. The Original Larry says:

    Well, it’s all you ever talk about. This originally had nothing to do with morality. The original question was what do we get out of this? The answer is still nothing.

  26. Walker says:

    And what do we get out of not recognizing them? Eh?

  27. Walker says:

    Merry Christmas, Larry!

  28. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Merry Christmas Brett – wherever you are. Crabtree too!

  29. Two Cents says:

    Q: who would make the best new first ambassador to cuba?
    my joke answer is caroline Kennedy.
    but seriously, who gets the job?
    any speculations for fun?

  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Jeb Bush

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