This is old news, but worth a few keystrokes of my day to bring it to you. This week Canadian officials announced targeted sanctions on Belarus over human rights abuses. It’s easy for Canada to impose economic sanctions on Belarus. Canada runs a trade deficit with Belarus, and not a huge market for Canadian goods. Belarus is faraway too. Out of sight and out of mind for most Canadians.
Closer to home, however, right here in the Western Hemisphere, Canadian policymakers have a spotty record on defending fundamental rights and liberty. For decades, Canadian officials and corporations have ignored human rights violations in Communist Cuba. Why sanctions on Belarus, or for that matter, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Lebanon, South Sudan, or other 14 nations that Canada sanctions but not Cuba? Hotels, mining, beer, and tourism, that’s why.
This week Canadian policymakers expressed many concerns about human rights in Belarus. They’re upset about Belarus’s “systematic campaign of repression,” suppression of anti-government protests, and the suppression of the “people’s right to free and fair elections, liberty and security of the person, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and due process.” All of this is true in Communist Cuba, yet Canadian policymakers and corporations look the other way.
The human rights situation in Belarus is not great, and officials should be sanctioned. Yet Cuba’s human rights track record is much worse. Cuba is a police state and island prison gulag. For decades, Canadian businesses and governments have propped it up and made it easier for the Communist Party to lord over the people. Of course, it’s not just Canada that has propped up the criminal cartel that runs the island. There are many other sources of foreign money, making its way to Havana.
China leads the pack of foreign investors, along with Russia, Spain, Germany, and a hodgepodge of others, including billions in remittances a year from Cuban exiles in the United States. I have always wanted Canada to be a partner in the struggle for liberty. Our nations have a lot in common. We share a large border. Trade a lot. Our nations are NATO allies and do a lot of good in the Americas, yet we never seem to get on the same page when it comes to Cuba. It’s too bad.
Rather than support the Trump administration’s efforts to end Cuba’s criminal cartel hold on power or send Russia and China packing from Cuban and the Americas, the Canadians have hedged by focusing on Venezuela policy. Why? Because the outcome in Venezuela, if the play works, would result in another socialist leader in Venezuela. Juan Guaido is a socialist. His political party, Popular Will, is part of the Socialist International. If the Venezuelan opposition leader were someone other than a socialist, Canada and other powers would’ve never supported recent U.S. sanctions or other policy measures the Trump administration has put in place.
Then there is the issue of Canada trade with Cuba. Cuba is a vital trade market for Canada. There may be as many as 100 Canadian companies exploiting Cuban workers to a tune of about $1 billion a year. According to colleagues on the island, Canadian companies also help exploit many of Cuba’s vast natural resources that have contributed to scores of environmental crimes that continue to this day. In one part of Cuba, the environmental pollution is so bad that it may be contributing to cancer clusters in several rural towns. Then there is the forced Cuban labor used in Cuban hotels, hospitals, and other industries.
For Canadian companies and the Canadian government, human rights in Cuba do not matter. They have been the facilitators and, in some cases, the human rights abuse perpetrators. In a second Trump administration, in addition to expanding efforts on isolating Cuba’s criminal cartel with sanctions and, perhaps, indictments under various U.S. laws, the Americans should press Canadians and other countries that trade with Cuba to reassess their relationship with the island gulag. We should also press Russia and China to leave the region or calibrate its relations.
As for the Canadian sanctions on Belarus, they are not as tough as they could be, but they get kudos for making an effort. It is chock full of exemptions and exceptions. But we should applaud any effort by our allies to do the right thing, even if hypocritical when faced with more pressing matters right here in the Americas. There is a lot the U.S. and Canada can do to advance liberty in the region. It’s time we tackled Cuba together and seek a new way forward for Cuba and the region.