What does Cuba need?

What does Cuba need?
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Prime Minister Harper wrapped up his weekend trip to Colombia, where he had been attending the 2012 Organization of American States summit, by making a fairly rightward turn in Canadian foreign policy. Joining forces with President Obama, the two leaders effectively vetoed Cuba’s invitation for the organization’s 2015 get-together, something the OAS’ various other member nations had been actively demanding. Since the OAS requires unanimous consent to pass any decisions, Cuba will be staying off the guest list — just as it has every year since 1962.

“We do believe that the Summit of the Americas should be restricted to democratic countries and that Cuba should be encouraged to come as a democratic country in the future,” said the PM, heralding his first major foreign policy decision regarding the Communist-run island.

Under previous governments, Canada had taken a famously soft line with Cuba, maintaining full economic and diplomatic ties in open defiance of American efforts to isolate the Castro regime. This sucking up to a Marxist dictatorship at the expense of Canada’s relationship with the United States was obviously never hugely popular with the Canadian right, meaning Harper’s new, more confrontational posturing is as much a way for his administration to placate the base as curry favour with Washington. At a time when full White House approval for the Keystone pipeline remains outstanding, after all, acting as one of the world’s last supporters of America’s increasingly eccentric five-decade Cuba policy is probably worth at least a few brownie points, even if it makes Canada look fairly hypocritical in the process.

The un-invite, needless to say has angered much of the left, both at home and abroad. Many of the Latin American nations that make up the OAS, we may remember, are currently led by far-left Castro allies, and they’re none too happy. Several of the region’s most flamboyant socialists, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa boycotted this year’s meeting because of Cuba’s continued nonclusion, and doubtless many more will do so in 2015. Domestically, Harper will almost certainly face flack from the opposition for compromising Canadian foreign policy independence in the face of the Yankee hegemon, and doubtless we’ll hear much about how Canada’s “global reputation” for progressive tolerance has been irreparably harmed by this reactionary step backwards.

Now look. I get the idea that much of America’s anti-Castro posturing is overblown. I know it’s an obvious electoral sop to Florida’s immigrant community, and I know there are worse tyrannies to which the United States (and Canada, for that matter) maintains much cheerier relations. And I know the 50-year boycott clearly hasn’t worked, at least in the sense that isolation was supposed to weaken the Communist regime, whereas it’s now the world’s second longest-running dictatorship.

But still. We’re not asking the world here. All the other left-wing Latino strongmen have figured out a way to make their socialist revolutions compatible with some form of constitutional democracy, even as they pay explicit tribute to the Cuban model in their deeds and policies. As far as games of diplomatic chicken go, the Cuban people are winning a very grotesque prize for their government’s pride and stubbornness, and I’ve never understood why this is something the rest of the world is expected to applaud.

Harper deserves some kudos for at least calling the regime out, after years of self-serving Canadian equivocation on Cuban human rights. Considering the Prime Minister’s newfound interest in sucking up to China, it’s undeniably a disingenuous stance to some degree, but meaningful change in Canadian foreign policy will only come when we devote as much effort to applauding the small victories as we do moping about the larger imperfections.


  1. OldsVistaCruiser

    I'm from the States, and I wonder why this damned embargo has gone on for 50 years now. It does nothing against the Castro brothers' regime, and that blowhard Fidel Castro hasn't been a threat to the United States for over 20 years now, ever since the Velvet Revolution took down the Soviet Union without a shot being fired. In fact, it's been almost 50 years since the Cuban missile crisis, which was the last time Cuba was a real threat to the U.S.

  2. Chris

    The Velvet Revolution was the end of Czechoslovakia, not the end of the USSR. They're related, but the former is just a subset/result of the latter.

  3. OldsVistaCruiser

    Basically a domino effect, eh?

  4. Nick Papageorgio

    Clearly you know no history. Sad.

  5. ThePsudo

    It bothers me that the typical reaction to perceived ignorance is to let it remain. If ignorance bothers you, doesn't it make more sense to educate than to condescend?

  6. Nick Papageorgio

    A person who thinks the Velvet Revolution was the collapse of the USSR is too far removed from reality to be able to make educated conclusions on anything. It's kind of like the birthers or truthers — they're too stupid to talk to.

  7. Jon Bennett

    He did educate, even if in a condescending manner.

    The idea that the Cold War ended w/o a shot being fired is pretty laughable as well.

  8. Jake

    Force of habit. Embargo because communism was a threat. Then embargo because it was thought Castro would fall soon. Embargo stayed because they kept thinking Castro would fall soon. Communism ended in '89. Really has only been about two decades. And Cuba since then has thought it would fall soon as Fidel was getting older and older.

    Once Fidel dies, even if Raul stays the government will change, especially if its a Republican in power. IE: Only Nixon would of been able to open relations with China. Thus only someone with the support of individuals like Marco Rubio would be able to open relations with Cuba as Clinton was able to do with Vietnam with the support of John McCain.

    Also on a side note, then is a law that states the US cannot have any relations with Cuba until all Castros are out of power, not just Fidel. Plus there is the agreement with the Soviet Union (now Russia I suppose) the US will never try to overthrow Cuba. So I guess there is that hurdle to still address. Although really both issues can be just quickly fixed as soon as Fidel is out.

  9. garvin anders

    Because any Congress Critter who whispers about ending the embargo gets his career buried by the Cuban Refugee Population who have emassed a good amount of capital and influence. And no Presidential Candidate will dare if he wants to win Florida amd that same community is canny enough to rile up the entire south in support of their "no mercy for commies" position.

  10. Chris

    If the current course of action means that the utterly Americas Summit will not be happening again then I think everything has worked out well. The states of the OAS have nothing binding them together but geography.

  11. Amilam

    I think Charles Kupchan wrote a great article regarding the increasingly marginalized value on Western values in governance. It's called "America's New Place in the World" for those that are interested. Now I believe that Western civil liberties represent the "best" form of governance, but it's also becoming increasingly obvious that attempting to get other countries to change their models, through either soft or hard measures, is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

    While I really enjoy reading Mr McCullough's comic and political views, I think he's a bit off the mark here. I agree that ostracizing Cuba while encouraging connections with the far more troubling regime in China is a hypocritical, but I disagree that it's a step towards improvement. The bottom line is that criticism of China is muted largely because it's pointless. No amount of punditry will cause any change in policy within China. Nor will it within Venezuela, Singapore, India, or Brazil. All of these countries feature governing values which strongly differ from our own and have proven to be self sufficient to various degrees successful (though the jury is still very much out on Venezuela).

    Ultimately, I think we need to redefine the purpose of foreign policy. We should be more hesitant to deciding who we do or don't support, unless they represent a clear and direct threat to our security. In lieu of such threats economic policies should be determined by the economic conditions towards us within those countries and to the long term benefits of our own people

  12. drew

    Basing foreign policy on a clear and defined set of moral principals is one thing. Following the USA down the garden path to a land where special interests intersect with state department and CIA program funding is another and it's no way to promote democracy. I've spent more time in Cuba than most Canadians, and I spend it away from resorts and political tourist traps. I'll tell you that the only reason the system stays as it is is because of the embargo. If the US would normalize relations with Cuba, there would be little standing in the way of genuinely progressive moves forward. The isolation means a total lack of oversight financially, and as more money is squandered on both sides of the straights, more Cuban exiles get rich off state department funding, and entrench themselves in this 50 year old war. If the war ends, if relations become normalized, the special status of Florida's Cuban population will disappear. They will become just another immigrant community in a country which has had a hard time integrating into new immigrants into mainstream culture.

    What Harper did was not stand up for democracy, but affirm that the US has a controlling interest in Cuba's future, which I think is the very issue at hand. You can say what you want about Cuba, but it's the only country in Latin America which has in any real way shaken off it's colonial past. US moves to isolate and break down the government would work to undo that and spread US influence as a cultural force and base for corporate business. The US and Canadian governments, as far as Cuba is concerned, do not care about human rights. That is not their motivation.

  13. Alejandro

    Cuba has shaken off it's colonial past buy having a U.S. military base on it's soil against it's will, supporting sizable military interventions in other South American country's as well as in Africa and Asia, and praising totalitarian crackdowns from Czechoslovakia, Tibet, Belarus, and even in Beijing to further their own political agenda.

    At the moment even Burma is moving to become a more democratic state. Burma! A nation lead by a Military Junta and arguably the second most isolated state in the world behind North Korea is moving towards a multiparty democracy. If that is not an insult to Cuban internal policy then what is?

  14. Dan

    JJ, one question about the embargo: What keeps other countries from doing business with Cuba?

  15. J.J. McCullough

    Nothing, in fact if you check out the "hypocrisy" article I linked to above, you'll see that the author mentions just how profitable the US embargo has been for Canada.

  16. Dan

    So, do the claims that the U.S. is stunting Cuba's development have any justification?

  17. Nick Papageorgio

    It has long been the stance of Cuba that trade with the good ol' USA would help them.

    Scumbag cuba: Decry capitalism, still want free trade with America

  18. Jake

    North Korea does the same thing. Says that national Korean socialism is good but then blames the US when the lights flicker or go off.

  19. Stoo


  20. ouram

    Why is Evo Morales' nose bleeding? Are you implying he snorts a lot of coke?

  21. ThePsudo

    Or that he's a shy anime character with a crush. =]

  22. StevieZ

    Cuba is also the Central American/Carribean Country with the highest living standards (Barbados doesn't count), despite having being 88th in the world for GDP per capita. Cuba is 51st in the world by human development index, and the only Latin American countries with a better standing than Cuba are Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Cuba experienced economic growth ever since they recovered from the shock of the Soviet Union collapse. You can say all you want about the virtues Democracy, but the system in Cuba is working. The other left-wing leaders may have compromised their socialist aspirations, but it is also clear that the living standards within their countries do not reach Cuba's level. Cuba suffers from an US embargo which is very harmful to its economy, without which they would be even better off economically. Forcing capitalist democracy on Cuba may not be such a good idea.

  23. drew

    StevieZ, when have you been to Cuba, and where did you go? You sound as though you are reading economic markers on a printed out report, and not offering a fair or true reflection of the reality of life in Cuba. I'm absolutly not pro-America, but "the system in Cuba is working" is a statement that begs some validation.

  24. StevieZ

    I went to Camaguay a couple of years back. Cuba's got tiny streets, dilapidated buildings, and everyone is poor. Yet, everyone can eat full meals, go to baseball games free of charge, go dancing at night, Cubans even get to visit holiday resorts during weekends, free universal healthcare and post-secondary education. The Cuban people don't get many luxuries, TVs, Electronics, and Cars are all scarce. Yet the important things are available. In a purely material perspective, Cubans don't have much. However, nobody lives in abject poverty. You can raise a family in Cuba, educate yourself, entertain yourself, and live a long healthy life. Which is a lot better than the lot of many others in other developing countries.

  25. Anon

    Just as long as you don't say or write anything bad about the revolution, or against the Communist party.

  26. StevieZ

    Well it's not a good place to live in, it's just better for the average person than the Dominican, Brazil, and a lot of other developing countries. Cuba is no First World Country by any means.

  27. Nick Papageorgio

    Better than Brazil? Surely you jest. I know you're trolling because you can't possibly be that stupid.

  28. ThePsudo

    I'm curious: what is rural Brazil like? Anyone?

  29. Dan

    Kind of like Plato's Cave.

  30. Jake

    Visiting is one thing, living is another. If you are lazy you like the current conditions in Cuba. If you want to work and make money or any other form of ambitions. Cuba is really limited.

    In other words, there is no freedom in Cuba. You can't work in anything you want. You can't say what you want, do what you want, life as you want. If you believe life is about eating (even that is limited), breathing and sleeping then Cuba is okay. But if you want more as pretty much everyone in the world does. Then Cuba is not that great.

    Plus walking around worry that any word you say could have you dragged into jail for life even if you aren't anti-communist.

  31. StevieZ

    That's a fair statement to make, but here is no freedom in abject poverty either. You can't work in anything you want because people don't hire you because you can't afford an education. You can't live or do what you want because you work 14 hour shifts at the factory so your family can have food on the table. Cuba is not a good place to live in. But, it is better than the alternative. Cuba's economy is tiny, they don't have anything to offer the world except sandy beaches and squash. It is only possible to have the current level of living standards in Cuba through forced redistribution. If Cuba was the fastest growing economy in the world, it would still take them 40 years to achieve the per capita economic output of a developed nation. You can't look at Cuba as if it were a first world country. A person living in Taiwan, the United States or Canada could live the description of a free life, but developing world poverty is something we rarely see in our society. Everyone wants upward mobility and to live the good life, but that is nothing but a pipe dream for most in 3rd world societies. People rarely talk about economic rights in the Western world because we've forgotten what it is like to be truly poor and how enslaving poverty can really be.

  32. ThePsudo

    What do you mean "People rarely talk about economic rights in the Western world"? If you mean property rights or a minimum guaranteed income, it seems like a common topic to me. If it means something else, what?

  33. Yannick

    You try to play up Harper's position as hard-line following "soft stance" by our previous governments.

    Actually, it was Chrétien who started the policy of not allowing Cuba to join the talks in 2002, and who insisted that only democratic countries be allowed to join.

    So Harper is just following the policy by the "soft stancers". FAIL.

  34. Anon

    Alright, time to play the guessing game. I'll start on the left and go to the right, in solidarity of my anti-capitalist brothers in the global south.

    1. Juan Santos of Colombia I think?
    2. Looks like Danny Ortega, but I could be wrong
    3. Evo Morales (hint: Amerindians in Bolivia usually brew coca leaves as a tea; the drink is believed to help with altitude sickness. Snorting the stuff is purely for us rich folks in the North)
    4. Dunno. Looks like Lula, but he hasn't been president of Brazil for a while now.
    5. Hugo Chavez. Is the Wario bucket a permanent addition?

  35. Kento

    Jose Mujica, the world's cutest world leader. It's a bit sad, he's not so cute in the cartoon.

  36. J.J. McCullough

    Hah, you're a bit off.
    It's Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, Evo Morales, Jose Mujica, and Chavez.

  37. Taylor

    How does Canada "suck up" to Cuba? Visits are normal between countries.

  38. Zulu

    No, Cuba is NOT a great place to live. That's why thousands continue to leave the island. You have basic needs filled, but there is very little opportunity to make something out of yourself. That is why Cubans have few children, have had a high suicide rate (has dropped recently), and why so many line up in lotteries and embassies for the chance to leave. What's basic medicine, just enough food and education worth when you can't do anything? My barber was a lawyer in Cuba just a few years ago. He left because he literally can't make anything of himself. He's now much happier as a barber in the US, though he finds education here and medicine awfully expensive.

  39. Jake

    Aka Freedom. People who think breathing, eating and sleeping is enough don't understand the value of freedom. That is if you even get enough of those basic 3.

  40. Jon Bennett

    Cuba is North Korea with the benefit of Venezuelan oil money propping them up.

  41. Eric

    I don't think it is hypocritical to trade with autocracies while keeping them out of organization that are supposed to be democratic and have democratic members. The OAS is technically committed to encouraging democracy, and an argument can be made that letting Cuba in would not further this aim. When conservatives overthrew the democratically elected, leftist government of Honduras, much of the rest of Latin America was quick to condemn the coup. Honduras was subsequently suspended from the OAS. What's good for Honduras should be good for Cuba, I would think.

  42. Kadin

    "All the other left-wing Latino strongmen have figured out a way to make their socialist revolutions compatible with some form of constitutional democracy"

    There is, in fact, "some form" of constitutional democracy in Cuba. It's just that independent political parties are outlawed, and in elections there is only one candidate and you can only vote yes (I'm not kidding, but it's actually not quite as bad as that sentence makes it sound).

  43. J.J. McCullough

    That's pretty much how every dictatorship works. Even Saddam Hussein had elections. A country where there is absolutely no citizen involvement in politics is actually very rare.

  44. Tweeg

    Harper like most conservatives is a spineless windbag, if he was really concerned about human rights he'd take a harder line against China.

    This is hardly a great move for him, before Canada had the balls to take its own path now we look like America's lap dog.

    What big move is next for this government, not inviting Castro to Harper's birthday party.

    Great, our leaders foreign policy on Cuba is akin to that of a passive aggressive teenage girl.

  45. Amilam

    So the only way for Canada to follow it's own path is to do the opposite of America? Being reactionary is no more trail blazing than being servile.

  46. Jake

    What is Canada suppose to do? Invade Cuba? Seriously, last time any country took a hard stance against evil (Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam) they were vilified by people like you.

  47. drs

    Life expectancy (first table of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by

    Canada: 80.7

    Cuba 78.3

    USA 78.2

    Venezuela 73.7

    Brazil 72.4

    Similar results for infant mortality, except for Brazil being a lot higher than the others (28 vs. 4-6, 18 for Venezuela). Not to whitewash Cuba too much, but there’s something to be said for keeping your citizens alive, which they’re clearly much better at than Brazil, and kind of shame the US given that we spend more on health care than Cuba’s per capita income.

    I doubt Venezuela is “propping them up” much. Cuba probably does benefit from being warm and sunny; less need to import fuel to stay alive vs. a cold country. Wonder how they are on solar power.

  48. ThePsudo

    To argue that life expectancy is more important than political freedom goes against that whole "Give me liberty or give me death" thing.

  49. themindfreak

    Where is my comment?