Setting the Stage for Transition in Cuba Canada's Policy of Engagement with Cuba Could Advance American Interests - If the US Cooperates

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The Canadians have it right on Cuba. During his visit last week to Havana, Canada's Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced a 14-point accord with the Cuban government that calls for stepped-up cooperation and engagement between the two countries.

Though it appears fundamentally at odds with American policy, this Canadian initiative could well advance United States interests in Cuba. The Clinton administration should try to find ways to take advantage of it.

Not a panacea Canada's efforts, no matter how successful, probably won't bring democracy to Cuba or even significantly ease repression in that country. President Clinton and his advisers are right to be skeptical on this score. But short of military action, which is currently inconceivable, there is nothing the US or any other government can do to depose President Fidel Castro Ruz or induce him to make Cuban politics more democratic or humane. Neither the US policy of isolation nor the Canadian strategy of engagement will achieve these goals. What the international community can and should do is help set the stage for a quick and peaceful transition to a democratic government and a market-based economy in a post-Fidel Cuba - and, to the extent possible, reduce the hardships of the Cuban people until that transition takes place. As the experience of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe made clear, political and economic transitions are always traumatic and often violent, as old institutions, relationships, and ways of doing business are destroyed and new ones constructed from scratch. There is another lesson to be gained from the former Soviet bloc:Change in those countries that had developed strong prior relations with the US and Western Europe - Hungary and Czechoslovakia, for example - was less painful and turbulent than in those that had remained closed and isolated, such as Albania and Bulgaria. That is what the Canadian initiative is designed to do - to begin to engage Cuba and the Cuban people in a web of relationships with Canada. To be sure, Canada's motives are not totally selfless. Canada has an important stake in promoting trade with Cuba, its second largest trading partner in Latin America, and in defending the rights of Canadian companies to invest in Cuba, regardless of the extraterritorial provisions of the US's Helms-Burton legislation. …