The Cubans have been waiting for Justin Trudeau to visit Old Havana since he became Liberal party leader in 2013. They had planned to unveil a statue of his father to symbolize the warmth and depth of the Canada-Cuba relationship.
As Prime Minister Trudeau arrives on Tuesday evening (and departs on Wednesday morning), he will be busy squeezing in meetings with Cuba’s political leaders, Canadian businesspeople, and members of Cuba’s civil society. Moreover, there is a very good chance that he will get a private sit-down with Fidel Castro himself — a close confidant of his father’s.
It is worth remembering that Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1976 visit to Cuba was controversial in both Ottawa and Washington, but it served to cement a cordial and productive bilateral relationship. Castro always spoke respectfully and kindly of Pierre Trudeau, regarded him as a wise statesman, and saw him as a mentor of sorts. And one should also recall that Fidel Castro was an honorary pallbearer at Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.
Trudeau will undoubtedly tend to a wide array of issues on the Canada-Cuba agenda: commercial interaction and investment, scientific, educational and cultural exchanges, hemispheric issues and Donald Trump’s recent election in the U.S. There is also certain to be a respectful and candid discussion on the thorny issue of human rights in Cuba.
But make no mistake, his trip to Cuba is all about ensuring that Canada’s longstanding “special relationship” with Cuba remains intact. (The visit will also burnish his credentials with those on the left who supported him in the 2015 federal election.) Indeed, the last thing that Ottawa wants — especially as countries all over the world make a mad dash to Havana to scout out possible economic opportunities — is to see Canada’s well-earned reputation in Cuba somehow devalued.
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