Cuba in a Global Context: International Relations, Internationalism, and Transnationalism

By Catherine Krull | Go to book overview

6
“Complicated and Far-Reaching”
The Historical Foundations of Canadian Policy toward Cuba

ASA MCKERCHER

Over several weeks in early 1962 Canada and the United States argued publicly over Cuba. Speaking to reporters in Vancouver, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., an aide to U.S. president John Kennedy, charged Canada with aiding and abetting Cuban revolutionary activity throughout Latin America. A few days later, while addressing an Organization of American States (OAS) summit, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk raised Canada-Cuba trade as a source of concern. Firing back in the House of Commons, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker declared that Canada would not be pressured into adopting policies with which it did not agree. In private the issue of Cuba was just as divisive. When Rusk followed up his public rebuke of Ottawa by pressing the Canadian ambassador in Washington to urge his government to support the U.S. embargo, the two men argued bitterly for several hours. Alarmed by this sniping, Howard Green, the Canadian foreign minister, ordered a review of Canada’s Cuba policy.1

The resulting report began by observing, “The implications of our relations with Cuba, particularly in terms of U.S.-Canada relations, are complicated and far-reaching. Our policy has frequently been misunderstood and occasionally distorted both at home and abroad.” Even though Ottawa and Havana had different political and economic ideologies, and despite Canadian officials’ doubts about the direction of Cuban domestic and foreign policy, Canada found little reason to abandon its normal relationship with the Caribbean nation. A complicating factor was the United States, a power that had long tried to dominate Cuba. Given both Washington’s strong desire to overturn the Cuban revolution and the economic and military importance of the United States to Canada, Ottawa’s independent stance toward Cuba was remarkable. By following its own course and avoiding “‘knuckling under’ to U.S. pressure,” the Canadian government made it “clear that our policy was not calculated essentially as a mere demonstration of independence for its own sake regardless of the merits of the case.” Rather, Canadian policy toward Cuba was based on the principle that

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