Thursday, August 17, 2006

We should be there for Cuba

The Hamilton Spectator

Cuban President Fidel Castro, 80, is recovering from surgery.

By Lee Prokaska
The Hamilton Spectator
Aug 17, 2006

In a country with both 97 per cent literacy and widespread deep poverty, it's difficult to anticipate what post-Castro Cuba might look like.

It is clear, though, that Canada has played, and continues to play, a key role in the island's development plans. That puts our nation in a position of at least some influence in the transition Cuba will face when Fidel Castro's life and rule end.

And as Castro passed his 80th birthday recently, bedridden after surgery and having turned control over to his younger brother Raul (who is only 75), pundits are beginning to ponder the future of Cuba, which was a playground for the rich up until the revolution almost 50 years ago and has developed into one of the most favoured vacation spots for Canadians.

Reading the Cuban situation remains as tricky a pastime as ever, even as the self-proclaimed Maximum Leader recovers from a not very clearly defined ailment that required surgery. But what is clear is that it is Cubans who should determine their future. Neither U.S. President George W. Bush, who continued the U.S. embargo on Cuba, nor Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has developed a close and influential relationship with the Castro regime since the fall of the Soviet Union, should have a hand in that determination.

Likewise, those who fled Castro's regime for the United States decades ago are not in a position to determine what is best for present-day Cuba, where the younger generation has no memory of the pre-Castro era of American domination. Certainly, the opinions of disenchanted ex-Cubans are of interest; just as certainly, the assumption that the previous ruling class will take over after Castro's demise is simply silly.

Canada, with its affectionate attachment to the island country, as well as strong involvement in its economy, is in a unique position to be constructive as Cuba balances on the cusp of transition. Certainly Canada's involvement in any transition would have a more collaborative character to it than, for example, direct U.S. involvement. Canada shares a range of social and political values with the United States, but any involvement in a Cuban transition on our part would be more akin to U.S. without the extremely sharp edges.

Cubans have not experienced self-determination under Castro, nor under his predecessor Fulgencio Batista. If the time for such change is imminent, Canada should be there to offer support and assistance.

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