03/04/13 - TORONTO STAR - EDITORIAL: As the Castros bow out, Canada can help spur Cuban reform
As Cuba's Castro brothers bow out, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is right
to cultivate ties with the next generation of leaders.
Cuban President Raúl Castro, 81, plans to cheat not only the Grim Reaper
but also a dozen American presidents by bowing out on his own terms in
2018. By that point he and his ailing brother Fidel will have ruled the
island nation for nearly six decades.
For many Cubans - most born after the 1959 revolution - change can't come
too soon. "You thought that with all these old men, it would never end,"
Havana resident Regla Blanca told The Associated Press. "I am very
satisfied." In their hearts, many would agree.
Castro plans to hand power to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, a Communist
stalwart of the post-revolutionary generation and chess-playing engineer.
Still, this leaves 11 million Cubans looking anxiously down a dark
corridor. Power struggles may yet erupt.
It's good, then, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stepped up Canada's
engagement by sending Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on a recent and
rare trip to Cuba to encourage both political and economic reform, and to
push for more trade, investment and tourism. Harper's next step should be
to drop Canada's objection to Cuba rejoining the Organization of American
Few Canadians envy Cubans their lack of political freedom under the
Castros' rule, but we shouldn't pass up any chance to strengthen ties in
the hope of bettering people's lives.
Life has improved since Raúl took over from Fidel in 2008. He has turned
state land over to private farmers, encouraged small business, let people
travel abroad, and legalized the sale of homes and autos. Still, Cuba has
yet to recover from the fall of its Soviet backers in 1991. Most people
still struggle a generation later. Cuba is overly dependent on cheap oil
from Venezuela and on remittances from abroad.
While American law forbids fully normalizing relations as long as the
Castros are in power, the Harper government should also encourage the U.S.
to further ease the trade embargo that has cost Cuba $100 billion over the
years. The embargo failed utterly to oust the Castros, and can't be
justified when they are on the way out. Not when Washington trades freely
with Communist China, Vietnam and others. The embargo served only to give
the regime a pretext to jail dissidents under the guise of defending the
As the cult of Fidelismo fades to grey, the time seems right for psychic
change on both sides of this long, sterile feud. That's something Ottawa
can usefully encourage.
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