Wal-Mart Told Cuban Pajamas Fit Canada Even If US Bans Them
Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Cooler heads could still prevail, but Canadian and United States officials, as well as the news media, seem riveted by the great Wal-Mart pajama flap.
It all started innocently on Feb. 27 when Valdimar Johnson, the manager of a Wal-Mart store in Winnipeg, responding to a customer complaint, pulled 48 pairs of "Made in Cuba" men's pajamas off store shelves. Mr. Johnson's concern stemmed apparently from US laws prohibiting trade with Cuba. "It is in conflict to a US law," he told a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
That swift action might have pleased American legislators like Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, cosponsor of the Helms-Burton law that extended the US trade embargo of Cuba to companies in other countries and allowed US courts to try foreign companies for doing trade with Cuba. But in Canada it is against the law for Canadian companies - including US subsidiaries operating in Canada - to obey American laws prohibiting them from doing business with Cuba. The Canadian government has been among the leaders in criticizing the Helms-Burton legislation. The US position is that support for Cuban President Fidel Castro that comes from Cuba doing business with other nations must be cut off. Canada says doing business with Cuba can support a move toward democracy. Aides to Senator Helms on his Senate Foreign Relations subcommittees say the Canadian pajama furor shows once again how twisted Canada's foreign policy has become in response to Washington tightening the trade embargo on Cuba. "Has Canada become like the USSR where government dictates to business what products they stock on their shelves?" wondered Marc Thiessen, a subcommittee spokesman. In making the decision to pull the pajamas from his shelves, it is unclear whether manager Johnson realized he was breaking Canadian law. But soon after, thousands of Cuban pajamas were quietly pulled from Wal-Mart shelves in 135 stores across Canada. …