Canada's Foreign Minister: U.S. Influence Will Make Cuba Better
The Conservative politician agrees with Obama: America's opening will
help transform the island.
JEFFREY GOLDBERGDEC 21 2014, 9:22 AM ET
President Obama is receiving sustained criticism from Republican
senators, conservative media, and many Cuban Americans for his efforts
to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba and bring about the
eventual end of the U.S. economic embargo. But he has strong allies in
Canada's Conservative government, which has otherwise taken a more
aggressive approach to such issues as Vladimir Putin's Ukraine
adventures, and to supporting the government of Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, than a) one might expect Canada to take; and b) the
I met with the Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, in New York a
couple of days ago. I will post my full interview with him next week (he
made very interesting comments on Syria, Middle East peace, and Hillary
Clinton, to name just a few subjects), but I thought I would share his
views on Cuba now, since they are particularly relevant to the current
debate. Canada, of course, hosted secret talks between the Cuban
government and U.S. negotiators, and it has always maintained normal
diplomatic and economic relations with Havana, despite previous U.S.
hopes that it would participate in the 50-year boycott of the Castro
regime. (Canada's tourists have traditionally flooded Cuba, and believe
themselves to be noble and demure while doing so—which is not always the
case, as I've seen on my visits there, but more about this another time.)
Despite Canada's historically un-U.S.-like relationship with Cuba, it
was still somewhat surprising to hear the right-leaning Baird endorse
enthusiastically Obama's overture to Raul Castro. "I agree with this
policy. I don't think previous U.S. policy has been effective," he said.
"If you flood Cuba with American values, American people, and American
investment, it will help transform the country."
Critics of this theory point to China and Vietnam, two countries with
deep economic ties to the U.S. in which one-party communist rule still
obtains. I asked Baird about this argument, and he responded by nodding
in the direction of a popular counterargument—that Cuba has been held to
a separate and hypocritical double standard by successive U.S. presidents.
"Did anyone say the U.S. was a pushover when you normalized relations
"It's hard to compare two situations together, but if you can have
normalized relations with Vietnam, why wouldn't you normalize relations
with Cuba?" Baird asked.
Normalization with Vietnam has not made it any freer, I argued.
"Certainly it's improved the economic lot of the Vietnamese people. The
average family is better off today than it was 20 years ago." He then
noted—in very diplomatic terms—that even bigger changes are coming in
Cuban politics. "Obviously there will be further change when people move
on," he said, a reference to the age of the Castro brothers.
I raised one other issue with Baird on this subject: whether he thought
the Iranian regime might interpret Obama's opening to Cuba (an opening
the Cuban government is naturally framing as a victory for the
revolution) as a sign of American weakness in the ongoing nuclear
negotiations. "Did anyone say that the U.S. was a pushover when you
normalized relations with Vietnam?" Baird asked. "I don't accept that."
Do you think, I asked, that the Iranians have a full understanding of
American will on this subject?
"No," was Baird's one-word answer.
Do you have a full understanding of American will on the subject? I asked.
"I take the president at his word," he said. "They say they'd rather
have no deal than a bad deal." Then Baird smiled. "We might have a
different understanding, however, of what constitutes a bad deal."
Source: Canada's Foreign Minister: U.S. Influence Will Make Cuba Better
- The Atlantic -