JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 27, 1998 / 1 Iyar, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder Chretien's mission of mercy to Fidel

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER Jean Chretien arrives in Cuba today. In this nation of 11 million starved, brutalized human beings, Chretien is coming to succor the one person he has determined to be most worthy of his support -- Fidel Castro.

Canada is Castro's major trading partner and, outside the communist camp, his most avid apologist.

In January 1997, Canada's foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, traveled to Havana. After dining on lobsters and lamb chops with the maximum leader (Cuban families get a monthly ration of 0.8 kilos of mystery meat mixed with soy), Axworthy signed a compact with his Cuban counterpart.

The document committed both nations to support non-governmental human-rights groups -- providing that this be done "in accordance with the laws ... of each country." Castro The Cuban constitution recognizes no rights at odds with "the development of socialism and communism."

Axworthy blames all of Cuba's ills, including rampant prostitution, on the American embargo. Apparently, four decades of Stalinist central planning have had no effect.

As a Castro cheerleader, even Axworthy is surpassed by Canadian House of Commons Speaker Gilbert Parent, who greeted a visiting delegation from Cuba's National Assembly as "fellow parliamentarians" (who elected them?) and dismissed Cuba's "so-called political prisoners."

Chretien says he is pleased with the results of Axworthy's accord. "We're going there because we have made progress in engaging them. ... For example, on freedom of religion he (Castro) has made progress."

This great advance consists of easing a few restrictions to pretty things up for the Pope's visit. In 1997, Cubans were allowed to celebrate Christmas for the first time in 28 years. There's no indication that the privilege will be extended.

Church schools are still closed. Religious activities are severely circumscribed. Rev. Patrick Sullivan, an American priest working in Santa Clara since 1994, is being expelled for posting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in his church.

Canadian blather about human-rights progress is an exercise in self-delusion or a cynical ploy. A steady stream of dissidents continues to enter Cuban prisons for such offenses as possessing "enemy propaganda" (pro-democracy literature) and "disrespect to the leader" (criticism of any kind). Cuba is the only country in the hemisphere that bars the Red Cross from its jails.

Following Axworthy's visit, four Cuban activists issued an open letter decrying Canada's collaboration with the regime and expressing dismay that the minister "avoided all contact" with opposition groups. The four -- Felix Bonne, Rene Gomez, Vladimiro Roca and Maria Roque -- were arrested in July and are being held without charges.

On arriving in Toronto last May, exiled Cuban poet Cecilio Sambra declared: "Cuba needs one fundamental change -- the tyrant's exit from power. He is the principal cause of everything that's bad in my country." Obviously, Axworthy hadn't enlightened Sambra on the overriding impact of the U.S. embargo.

Canadian human-rights gestures are cover for Canadian profits wrung from the emaciated bodies of the Cuban people. The nations' two-way trade exceeds $700 million annually. Each year, 170,000 Canadians descend on the island for sun, fun and monetary transactions with desperate women.

In a joint venture with the government, the Canadian company Sherritt Inc. operates the huge Moa nickel-mining complex.

Thus the regime earns hard currency to buy the guns to maintain its power. Sherritt gets a submissive work force that's never heard the words "collective bargaining."

Cuba has almost as many environmental protections as civil-liberties guarantees. In Moa, sulphur compounds are poured into the air, producing a rain that locals say stings the skin on contact. There is a high incidence of respiratory ailments among children. Sherritt pays $9 per worker to the government for every 50 cents employees receive.

Currently, Sherritt and a Spanish firm are negotiating to build 14 luxury hotels in Cuba -- hotels that ordinary Cubans aren't allowed to enter (unless they're young women there to service foreigners).

What Canadian businesses are doing in Cuba today is every bit as odious as Swiss and Swedish dealings with the Nazis. At least their governments didn't have the chutzpah to justify the blood trade by claiming to engage Herr Hitler on human rights.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.