Haiti and Cuba: Test Cases for Canada, but Tests of What?

Article excerpt

The many complications for Canada of its relationships with Haiti and Cuba are often seen as a test of the firmness of its decision to "join" the Americas. This "decision" was in fact a series of them, taken in the late 1980s, first to enter into a free trade arrangement with the United States, then to expand it to include Mexico, and finally, abandoning a century of aloofness, to connect itself to the inter-American system formally by becoming a member of the Organization of American States. Such far-reaching changes in Canadian foreign policy were not made in a vacuum, but were part of a fundamental restructuring of Canadian international politics in line with new international realities the country may well have been avoiding facing for a great many years.

This article will suggest that these decisions were and are in many senses hedging the nation's bets about the future and are faute de mieux rather than long hoped-for stances. In this regard it will further argue that in Haiti and Cuba one sees tests of the resolve behind this much-heralded "joining the Americas" and one may well see much more serious tests in the future. Finally it will be suggested that recent policy decisions regarding those countries are reflective of even newer realities Canada can no longer avoid facing and that this situation will be charged with importance in the country's future relations with the hemisphere.

A WORD ON THE AMERICAS AND CANADA

Canada has until recently considered itself anything but a full part of the Americas. Tied closely to Europe for centuries, politically and economically, that connection ensured its physical security from its powerful neighbour, allowed breathing space for national development, provided cultural counterpoise within the North American context of dramatic asymmetries, and anchored the body politic as something somehow "different" in the hemisphere. Monarchical, bilingual, with a Westminster model of parliamentary democracy, with two mother countries, in a rather loose confederation, Canada was a unique nation within the Americas.

Created essentially by the same war that made the United States a nation, the British North America that was to become Canada, when not fixated on Europe, was mesmerized by the United States to the south. Source of two waves of immigration (the Loyalists after the American Revolution and the land-seekers of the end of the igth and beginning of the 2oth centuries), the US was not only frequently a direct military threat but also a major trading partner with which, from its independence, there was a growing and mutually profitable link.

The American threat remained for many decades the anchor of Canadian unity, providing the stimulus to national defence and even national identification. The fear of being taken over, especially after two wars of conquest and many raids and border incidents, was slow to go away.1 And if that threat obliged a willing population to look eastward to the mother country as a result of being forced to look south as well, it meant that Canada avoided the fate of Mexico, whose neighbour was of course less deterred from seizing its territory in a series of moves in the 19th century. The Americas thus represented to Canadians their home but also the main threat to their peaceful and independent development. They were appalled by what they saw to the south of the United States: countries seemingly always in the grip of internal or even external strife and at the mercy of Washington whenever its interests seemed threatened by what was happening within their borders.

In this context, the development of Pan-American institutions held little allure for Canadians. The Pan American Union (PAU) seemed, as its successor the Organization of American States (OAS) was later to appear, to truly be what Latin Americans called it-either the US ministry of colonies or "a congress of mice presided over by a cat." While Canada early on developed that affection for multilateralism that brought it into the Commonwealth and Francophonie, NATO and the United Nations, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the G8, and all the rest, the Americas did not seem to offer the same attraction. …