Canada should be proud of the role it played in helping the U.S. and Cuba move toward re-establishing diplomatic relations.
More than half a century after the U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961, it has become patently obvious to all but the most strident hardliners south of the border that American policy has failed to elicit change in one of the most politically repressive countries on the globe.
While Canada did not play a direct role in the negotiations, it hosted private conversations between senior U.S. and Cuban officials in Ottawa.
U.S. President Barack Obama thanked Canada and Pope Francis, who had urged Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to find humanitarian solutions to their differences.
Obama laid the cards on the table when he admitted the U.S. policy of total isolation has “failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba.”
No one could argue with that.
Cuban dissidents are arrested without charge and left to rot in prison. Cubans are forced to subsist on an average state salary of about $23 a month. Visiting Canadians know even the basic necessities are hard to come by for the average Cuban.
It is testimony to the ravages of life in that country that so many have risked their lives in desperate attempts to cross 140 km of treacherous water to seek refuge in the U.S.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long advocated an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba in the belief that “economic engagement is important in getting liberalization in the long term.”
He is right on that score.
Other than the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, there is no better proof of the abject failure of a Marxist, planned economic state than Cuba. While the diehard regime of the Castros won't crumble overnight, the prospect of improved economic conditions will exert pressure on the government to enact social and political reforms. A renewed relationship with the U.S. removes that country's biggest so-called incentive for oppression — protecting Cubans from “American imperialism.”
It also benefits the U.S. by putting it in lockstep with the rest of the world and improving important relationships with Latin American countries long opposed to its Cuban policy.
New ties with the U.S. pave the way toward easing the plight of impoverished, oppressed Cubans, but only the American Congress can fully lift the economic embargo.
Before that can happen, Cuba must offer tangible evidence of its willingness to ease oppression and institute much-needed reforms.
Still, Obama's announcement takes an important first step toward helping Cubans move down the road toward a better life.
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