Sunday, December 19, 2010

 

FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Recent "Wiki-Leaked" cables from the Station Chief of the American Interest Section in Havana, Cuba have been critical of Canada's relationship with the Communist island nation less than 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

In the aftermath of last year's visit to the Cuban capital by Canada's Minister of State for external Affairs Peter Kent, the Station Chief Jonathan Farrar, who is America's highest diplomat in Cuba, told his handlers in Washington that Cuba was being given a "free-pass on its human rights abuses" because of economic motives, the results of which were..."risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and...a photo-op with one of the Castro brothers."

Cuba is guilty of abusing the rights of enemies of, and dissidents against the regime. Though, lest I digress human-rights abuses are frequently within the eye of the beholder: For instance Amnesty International believes the rights of more than 30 Florida teenagers jailed for life (without parole) for crimes less than murder have been abused...and, some would surely argue that rights have been denied to many detainees held at the notorious Guantanamo prison, ironically located on Cuban soil.

Canada established diplomatic relations with the Castro Government of Cuba while Pierre Trudeau was Prime-Minister. So grateful was the Cuban President for the overture that the reclusive leader travelled to Montreal in the fall of 2000 to attend Trudeau's State Funeral. Given the state of Canadian politics ten years hence; it's doubtful anyone of the same stature will return the favour when Castro expires...I digress once more.

If there are (and were) economic motives behind Canada's accommodating approach towards Cuba, they have paid-off. About half-a-million Canadians vacation on the Caribbean island each year, many at resorts owned by investors and their partners from the "great white north." - We are Cuba's single largest source of tourism. The surprising truth that few Americans seem to know though is that despite the intense rhetoric and a 60 year old embargo against Castro's Government; the United States is now sending the second-most visitors to Cuba than any other country; about 400,000.

President Obama fulfilled an election promise in April 2009 and lifted all Bush era restrictions against Cuban descendants in the USA as well as for some Americans allowed to travel for "sanctioned" activities. Since the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, American Presidents have tread carefully over their relationship with Cuba because of the politically well connected and wealthy community of exiles in south Florida which now numbers about 2-million. After 60 years they won't forgive Castro...but ironically their second and third generations are among the ones agitating the most for open travel to the offshore nation.

Sanctions and embargoes prevent U.S. based commercial airline traffic to Cuba; but President Obama lifted those same sanctions against charter carriers which are now allowed to fly to Havana from Miami, New York and Washington. This weekend...In Miami alone, fifty-five charter flights carrying thousands of Cuban descendants will wing-on over to Havana's Jose Marti International Airport. They (and most especially) their money will be welcomed with opened arms by the Cuban Government which imposes a 25% import duty on all the Christmas presents they'll be bringing long lost relatives. The President of Gulfstream Air Charter of Miami, Tom Cooper, told the Associated Press the load on-board the company's daily 737 flight to Havana is so great that..."for about half of Gulfstream's flights, the company charters a twin-turboprop cargo plane to carry the excess baggage."

Maybe the time has come for Washington to turn away from its inexorable intransigence over Cuba; or at least turn the other cheek in the spirit of the Christmas season. Either way there's good reason to suspect that Fidel Castro; though sick, weak and demented; is laughing all the way to the bank.

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