Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up his two day visit to Havana with a dinner with government officials and Canadian business people at Havana’s Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y el Tabaco restaurant and brewery in the Port of Havana. In attendance were some of Canada’s biggest investors in the Cuban economy.
Trudeau has been in Havana on an official visit to boost Canadian trade ties with Cuba. The Prime Minister’s visit comes at the time when Cuba-US relations hang in the balance following the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.
Like his father (Pierre Elliott Trudeau) before him who maintained a long friendship with former President Fidel Castro, Trudeau supports Cuba and supports Cuba-Canada business interests.
Trudeau’s office issued a statement that the reason for the visit was to “renew and strengthen” the bilateral relationship. The visit is an opportunity to “collaborate more closely on sustainable economic growth, inclusive governance, security, climate change, and gender equality.”
Ottawa is strongly opposed to the American embargo and was one of two nations (the other being Mexico) that did not sever ties with Cuba after the Revolution in 1959.
Trudeau’s itinerary in Havana included a visit to Revolutionary Square for a wreath laying ceremony, a meeting with Cuba’s President Raul Castro and a visit to the University of Havana to speak with more than 200 students and VIPS. President Castro and first Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel were also present. The event included discussions on the embargo, the Cuba-Canada relationship, climate change and gender equality issues. Also on the Trudeau agenda was a private dinner with Castro at Restaurante Café del Oriente.
Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendia Pena, told Canadian media there was a chance Trudeau would meet with Fidel Castro although officially nothing had been planned. In the end, Trudeau did not have the opportunity to meet with Fidel.
Trudeau stated that the U.S. position on Cuba and the election of Trump will not change Canada’s relationship with Cuba because Canada defines itself as a distinct, independent nation.
“At the same time, however, Canada has always been a steadfast and unflinching friend to Cuba, and we’ve never found any contradiction for us between being strong friends to Cuba and good friends and partners with the United States. Indeed, that’s one of the ways we assure ourselves that we are own country, that we make our own choices, and that we are willing to stand for our values and project on the world stage and make our own decisions.”
In speaking to the audience at the University of Havana, Trudeau confirmed the embargo has made it difficult for some Canadian companies and investors also interested in the U.S. market, “the U.S. political situation and the embargo is a barrier, and challenge.” He also said that although this is the case for some businesses, others are determined to invest in Cuba.
However, in spite of warm relations between the two countries, many Canadian businesses do not invest in Cuba because of the American embargo and fears they will be blocked from the American market.
“It’s no surprise we disagree with the approach that the United States has taken with Cuba. We think our approach is much better, of partnership, of collaboration, of engagement, but it’s not our job to tell our allies what they should do and shouldn’t do. It’s our job to make sure that we’re doing what we know we should do and can do in terms of creating opportunities for Canadians, for Canadian companies, but also for Cuba.”
Canadian government officials said that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Castro discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties and to promote “opportunities and rights for all our citizens including through commercial, cultural and governance co-operation.”
Some facts on the Cuba-Canada relationship:
- Canadians traveling to Cuba account for 40% (1.3 million) of all tourism visitors to Cuba each year.
- Bilateral trade between the two nations stands at less than $1.0 billion per year.
Trudeau’s next stop on his official travel agenda is Argentina and Peru for the APEC Asia-Pacific trade summit.