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Glendon Hosts Public Lecture on Cuban Resurgence


The Glendon Economics Club (GEC) and the Glendon Research Group in Public & International Affairs (GRGPIA) welcomed two Cuban scholars and one Canadian historian to present their views at a public lecture on November 14th on the topic of "The Cuban Resurgence: Examining the Political Economic History of Cuba - U.S. - Canada Relations".

Jorge Mario Sanchez, professor of International Economics, and Raul Rodriguez, professor of History and International Relations, both from the University of Havana (Cuba) participated in the discussion, with Robert Wright of Trent University acting as panel chair.

Robert Wright, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Trent University, specializing in Canadian history; and foreign policy and sovereignty issues. Wright is the author of Three Nights in Havana: Pierre Trudeau, Fidel Castro, and the Cold War World (Harper Collins, 2007), as well as several other books and numerous articles in his areas of specialization.

Moderated by Robert Wright, Sanchez and Rodriguez took turns providing a historical background to their island, from the end of the 19th century to the present. They outlined Cuba’s initial perception of Canada as a British dominion, an agent of British interests, with very little interaction between the two countries. At this time, Cuba was heavily dependent on the U.S., a situation which changed dramatically after 1959, marking the start of the Cuban Revolution, when this island broke away from western economies in an attempt to gain full independence. The U.S. reaction was swift and steadily the same for the past half century, consisting of economic embargos, military threats, and numerous undercover activities designed to overthrow the Castro government.

Raul Rodriguez was quick to point out that, although during the ensuing cold war Canada was one of the main allies of the U.S., this country did not follow the U.S. into the embargo. Instead, it maintained trade with Cuba, even though at times this caused serious friction between Canada and the U.S., for example during John. G. Diefenbaker’s term as Prime Minister.

Rodriguez stated that trade has always been the driving force behind Canada-Cuba relations, with Canada displaying relative tolerance over ideological differences, at a time when the U.S. strongly objected to various Cuban involvements, such as aid to leftist countries in Africa and South America.

Rodriguez outlined areas where our two countries can cooperate, such as bilateral relationships in investment, tourism and trade. “Successful cooperation in these areas would be a benefit in concrete terms for both countries”, said Rodriguez, “both economically and as an example for Latin America as a whole. “ He expressed the view that Canada and Cuba have a number of issues in common, such as their attempt to define themselves as nation-states vis-a-vis their neighbour, the U.S.

Rodriguez cautioned that since the mid-1980s – signaling the arrival of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - the relationship between our two countries has deteriorated, with the result that Cuba is progressively seeking trade partners in the Southern hemisphere. “The question is, how far Canada is willing to challenge the U.S. embargo to maintain and further develop trade with Cuba”, added Rodriguez.

Jorge Mario Sanchez next took the floor, outlining prospects for Canada-Cuba relations. He confirmed that Canadian entrepreneurs have initially flooded Cuban opportunities, but with the Harper government following U.S. guidelines much more closely than its predecessors, these relationships have decreased. The FTA has resulted in a significant reduction in trade between the two countries, a loss that may be very difficult to remedy, as Cuba is turning more and more towards trade with Latin America. A strong example is its relationship with Venezuela, with many joint ventures and an attempt at institutional integration, which is further facilitated by their common language and the highly trained and educated workforce which Cuba can readily provide.

From left to right: Robert Wright, Raul Rodriguez, Jorge Mario Sanchez

“Continued and increasing economic dependence between the U.S. and Canada at times impedes the latter from developing stronger ties with Latin America”, said Sanchez. “Cuban collaboration with Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, and others such as China, is defined within the framework of an attempt to counterbalance the impact of the United States.”

Penetrating questions from the floor included concerns over U.S. demands to provide identification of travelers from Canada to Cuba, if they flew over U.S. airspace; and the significant relocation of Cuban workers in the changeover from sugar cane as a main trading product to jobs relating to the tourism industry. A question on everyone’s mind was what would happen in Cuba once Fidel Castro is gone. Both speakers were adamant that, far from the stereotype of Fidel running every aspect of government, in reality a highly-trained and experienced civil service and educated professionals are already running the country, and there is no reason to anticipate transitional problems or significant changes in policies and direction.

Rodriguez and Sanchez expressed their country’s great desire to develop more partnerships and trade relationships with Canada. They were in Toronto to attend the biennial conference of the Association of Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), and used this opportunity to travel across the region to provide information, make contacts and invite collaboration.

This public lecture on Cuban resurgence, under the guidance of Glendon history professor Gillian McGillivray, was made possible by the support of the Glendon Economics Club, Glendon’s Office of the Principal, and the Glendon Department of History.

This article was submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on December 3, 2007