Canada "Outraged" at U.S. Laws on Trade with Cuba

Article excerpt

I'm delighted to speak on behalf of the minister of foreign affairs and the minister for international trade, and to reinforce the points they have been making on Helms-Burton in the last few months. I'm also pleased that you could attend this symposium and that you represent such a wide range of interests -- the business, academic, and non-governmental worlds. I congratulate our own Canadian Foundation for the Americas and the Centre for International Policy in Washington for organizing such a timely and important event.

It is no surprise that Canada is opposed to the Helms-Burton legislation. For one thing, it represents an approach to Cuba that diverges significantly from Canada's. Secondly, in our view, it magnifies the problems of U.S.-Cuba relations; it is like throwing oil instead of water on an unwanted fire. Thirdly, we believe it is the wrong instrument and it not only targets Cuba but threatens trading partners and friends, and disrupts international trade and investment. As my colleague Lloyd Axworthy said in a Washington speech on March 27, the "issue is whether it is appropriate for any country unilaterally to take measures to force other countries to agree with its foreign policy."

The focus of this symposium is the details of the Helms-Burton Act. You have many experts to debate this tonight and tomorrow. However, to appreciate the Canadian position on this legislation, you need an understanding of our Cuba policy and the history of our policy of dialogue.

At the outset, let me say that I am proud of our Cuba policy. It has strong support from all political parties and from interested Canadians. It is also quite similar to that of most other countries in Latin America and Europe.

In the broadest sense, I believe we share many of the same goals as the United States. Our aim is a peaceful transition in Cuba to a genuinely representative government that fully respects internationally-agreed human rights standards. And we look forward to Cuba's becoming an open economy.

However, we differ from the United States on how to reach these objectives. We have chosen the path of engagement and dialogue; the United States has picked isolation.

For decades, Canada and Cuba have discussed common goals and interests, learning from each other. There has been co-operation to our mutual benefit in international fisheries, social policies, the environment, science, culture, and international arms control issues.

But there is more to our relations with Cuba than that. When I went to that country in June 1994, the Canadian government launched a small but important package of assistance for Cuba. A range of Canadian groups and organizations took up the challenge to assist the Cuban people during the economic difficulties that Cuba has been facing.

We are now working with the Cuban government to pinpoint areas where Canadians can help Cuba modernize some of its key economic policy institutions such as the tax system and central banking. As you know, we're pretty good at collecting taxes. And we are trying to give the Cubans the tools that a modern central bank needs. We have the expertise; the Cubans want to work with us. The result will be institutions that will help Cuba enter the market economy.

We are also continuing to provide strong support to Canadian businesses seeking opportunities in the Cuban market. We have increased our embassy trade staff so that Canadian companies will get the best possible advice. And we have actively participated in Cuban trade fairs, helping to promote Canadian goods and services.

At the same time, we have pursued issues with the Cuban government where we do not agree. On human rights, we have urged the Cuban government to abide by international standards and obligations, particularly on civil and political rights. We were among the first to express concern at the severe sentence handed down in April, 1995 against Francisco Chaviano, a human rights activist. …