Americans visiting Cuba are often thought by locals to be Canadians. We often sound alike and dress alike and look alike, especially when we are in vacation mode. Almost a million Canadians visited Cuba in 2013—roughly 40% of all tourists. In contrast, the U.S., which is much closer and has a much larger population, had only a small fraction of its citizens travel to Cuba. Most of those were Cuban-Americans returning to their homeland to bring much-needed supplies to their families.
Canada has built, and continues to build, many luxury hotels in Cuba. Canada built Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport Terminal 3. It was inaugurated in 1988 by Fidel Castro and Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chretien. It handles flights for more than 25 international airlines, serving approximately 60 destinations in more than 30 countries. It is quite likely that without Canada’s massive investment in the tourism sector, Cuba’s economy would have totally collapsed in the 1990’s after the Soviet Union evaporated.
Yet Canada is America’s closest ally. It has many of the values and goals of the United States. It is far from being a communist country. It seems reasonable that Canadians would be able to provide a fair, independent, third-party assessment of Cuba and its relations with the U.S.
When you visit Cuba, eventually you will find yourself chatting with citizens of our neighbor to the north. I have found myself in this situation on many occasions. Inevitably the Canadians tell me how much they like us Americans, and how much they like Cubans. (Many return year after year, and have good friends and business partners in Cuba.) They remind me that the apparent goal of the embargo was to quickly drive the Castros from power (over 50 years ago). They point out that high-level officials in the Cuban government lead comfortable lives, while the common people continue to suffer. They tell me that the embargo is a perfect excuse for the Castro government to blame for all of Cuba’s problems. They mention that today, unlike in the 80’s, the majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami want the embargo to end immediately. And some point out (and I totally agree) that the embargo is counter-productive and absolutely NOT in the security interests of Canada and the U.S. But what really bothers most of the Canadians I speak with is that they realize that most highly-educated, well-traveled, internationally-aware Americans know almost nothing about Cuba and the bizarre situation it is stuck in. This is also what bothers me the most. And yet, with all the really screwed-up countries around the world, I believe Cuba could have a relatively bright future if the U.S. would just get out of the way and let it evolve into the 21st Century.
There is an ongoing international joke that everybody else “gets,” but not Americans. For decades, the U.N. has held a yearly vote to end America’s embargo. The only two countries in the world that consistently vote against the resolution are the United States and Israel. Somehow this allows American officials to claim that “our allies support our embargo.” Meanwhile, Israelis have invested over a billion USD dollars in Cuba. With a straight face, they can tell American officials that they support their ally–the United States. At the same time, they are helping severely restrict competition from American businessmen! Such a deal!
There was an excellent middle-of-the-road article on this subject in today’s PanAm Post. It was written by a Canadian who has lived in the United States. To read, please go to:
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