Of Friends and Enemies (Canadian Relations with Cuba in Defiance of the United States)

By Sullivan, Alan W. | Behind the Headlines, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview
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Of Friends and Enemies (Canadian Relations with Cuba in Defiance of the United States)


Sullivan, Alan W., Behind the Headlines


Like many Canadians, and I expect most fellow members of the CIIA, I experienced a sense of national pride over our recent determined efforts to maintain a distinct approach to relations with Cuba. This is, after all, an old story that goes back 35 years, and it's reassuring to see us sticking to our guns.

After some reflection, however, I began to wonder whether or not national pride, tinged with emotion, blurred the picture. Certainly I had no second thoughts about our opposition to the Helms-Burton bill. Even though that kind of unilateral approach by the United States may be indicative of the new world of the single superpower, we should not hesitate to oppose it. Similarly, continued trade with Cuba made good sense - nothing new now dictated a change in our policy. When the political activity of the Cuban-American lobby was added to the pot, it raised serious questions about the credibility of United States policy on Cuba and how much attention it deserved.

The official visit to Cuba by Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, however, was perhaps another story. In principle, there was no reason why the Minister should not visit Cuba whenever he liked. Still, though such a visit reflected our sovereign authority, the question of possible repercussions arose in my mind, and stuck there.

Canadians do not instinctively look at the world from the point of view of friends or enemies. Our approach reflects perhaps a classic posture for a country like Canada, which does not consider itself to be the repository of a `civilization.'

The United States, as a superpower, has always seemed to me to be very different from us in that respect. Our neighbours tend to draw up battle lines, and the world is divided into friends and enemies of the United States. While the friends list tends to come and go, those identified as enemies quickly become legendary figures. There have been several such `monsters' since World War II. Dominating the list are all the leaders of the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-Tsung (until President Richard Nixon visited China in 1971), Muammar Qadhafi, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Yaser Arafat until recently, and, above all, Fidel Castro.

Those of us who remember the Cuban missile crisis will recall the proximity to war we sensed in 1962 as Castro began housing Soviet missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States - just ninety miles away. Added to the direct danger was the symbolic challenge to the most fundamental tenet of United States foreign policy over the centuries, the Monroe Doctrine.

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