The Liberal government’s
recent decision to reduce our embassy in Havana, Cuba to
a skeleton staff and severely cut services previously provided
to Cuban residents wishing to visit Canada is short-sighted,
mean-spirited and wrong.
The Trudeau government
has said the decision was made to protect the health of
Canadian diplomats, some of whom reported suffering concussion-like
symptoms caused by an unidentified source.
A total of 14
Canadian diplomats, including family members, have complained
of the same symptoms of headaches, nausea and dizzyness
over the past two years, 12 of whom were recalled in 2017.
The most recent case – and the case the Trudeau government’s
decision was based on – occurred last November.
The initial announcement
that Canada would be reducing embassy staff was made on
January 19, but it wasn’t carried out until May 9. If the
issue was so serious, why the delay? And why allow any staff
to remain at all if their health was so gravely at risk?
The thought that
the Cuban government would target embassy staff is ridiculous.
Canada is, and always has been, one of the most important
countries to the Cuban economy – if not the most important
country – dating back to the post-revolution days when Diefenbacker
refused to follow America’s lead to ostracize Cuba and the
newly formed Comuunist government led by Fidel Castro.
Canada and Cuba grew even stronger after Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s
three-day visit to the country in 1976 which planted the
seeds of a close personal friendship. In fact, Castro was
a honourary pallbearer at Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.
To quantify the
importance of Canada to the Cuban economy one needs to look
no further than the number of tourists who visit the country
every year. In 2017, more 1.1 million Canadians visited
Cuba. The next two largest contingents came from the U.S.A.
(618,000) and then Germany (243,000).
In fact, Canadians
make up one-quarter of all visitors to Cuba. We fill their
resorts, support the growing number of Airbnbs in the country
known as casa particulars and eat in their paladares. In
other words, we pump hundreds of millions of dollars into
their economy supporting everyone from taxi drivers to chamber
If you simply
take into account the $25 exit fee that is included in every
airline ticket to Cuba, that’s $25.3 million. So why on
earth would the Cuban government risk all that by using
untrasonic surveillance equipment that might endanger the
health of Canadian diplomats and their dependents? The answer
is they wouldn’t. And if some of our people are complaining
of these symptoms than simply replace them.
Since the initial
outbreak in 2017 only two people have complained of concussion-like
symptoms. That’s two out of more than 16 staff members and
their families. The impact of the staff reduction on Cubans
wishing to visit Canada has been devastating. In a word,
I will give you
a personal example. I was planning to bring a Cuban friend
of mine to Ottawa in August. When I inquired about how he
could obtain a visa since the embassy is no longer processing
visa applications I was told that he would have to visit
a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in person. Naturally, I
asked where the nearest VAC was. The person answered without
realizing the idiocy of the words that followed – Mexico
City. I then asked the individual on the other end of the
line if they had a map of the Caribbean and Central America
and tried to provide them with a short geography lesson.
is not a city in Cuba and second it is both physically and
finan-cially possible for a Cuban to hop on over to Mexico
City for the sole purpose of applying for a visa and then
hoping back over several weeks later to pick it up, assuming
it’s been approved.
means that students who were either hoping to study in Canada
or were already enrolled in a program won’t get to continue
their studies and Cuban nationals won’t get to visit their
loved ones visiting Canada.
I have a different
theory on why Canada has decided to reduce it’s staff and
services in Cuba and it has everything to do with Trudeau
wanting to appease Donald Trump to avoid tariffs and over
trade issues. In street parlance it’s called kissing ass
and the old man is no doubt rolling in his grave over his
son’s gutless decision.
For the sake
of ordinary Cubans and future Cuba-Canada relations let’s
hope it’s only temporary.
(If you wish
to comment on this or any other View Point column please
write to Fred Sherwin at firstname.lastname@example.org)