- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and a host of businesses were lobbying Congress last week to loosen the trade embargo on Fidel Castro's Cuba. They argue that more trade with Castro will help Cubans and fatten American farmers' wallets.
For Canadians, who have long had open trade with Cuba, this feel-good message is a familiar one. Canada is the tropical tyranny's third-largest trading partner, and Canadian politicians love to tweak Uncle Sam's beard about it.
That is what Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau did in 1976, when he visited Havana and shouted "Viva Fidel"! It is what our current Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, did in 1998, when he stood beside Cuba's dictator and lavished praise on the "thriving commercial relationship" between Cuba and Canada. More recently, Mr. Chretien boasted about how he told a bunch of Wall Street "capitalists" to be "nice" to Cuba.
Many Canadian tourists visit Cuba confident in their moral probity. But few apparently bother thinking about the sunny Stalinism being perpetrated out of sight of their vacation villas. Canada's policy on Cuba is "constructive engagement" Canadians like to believe that doing business with Cuba will persuade Mr. Castro to change his ways.
It has done nothing of the sort, of course, so it is surprising that the constructive engagement argument was being listened to with respect in Washington. Lissa Weinmann, a spokeswomen for the AHTC, which includes supporters such as David Rockefeller, Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Coors of Coors Brewing Co., told senators in May that America has "a moral obligation to allow the Cuban and American people" to trade food and medical products. Ms. Weinmann also announced that since AHTC was formed in 1998, the organization has learned that the embargo against Cuba "also hurts ordinary Americans."
The AFBF has been looking enviously at the $1 billion Cuba spends on agricultural imports each year from Canada and elsewhere. Earlier this year, the federation estimated that American farmers in Arkansas and Texas could sell $300 million worth of rice each year to Cuba, and that Iowa could reasonably hope for $80 million in corn sales and another $70 million in soybeans. These guesstimates of riches bear little relation to the reality of constructive engagement with Cuba.
Take the case of Adecon Ship Management. It provides refinancing and administrative services to shipping companies and is owed some $2.2 million by the Cuban government, which is ignoring a Canadian federal court order to pay up. When an Adecon director went to Havana to negotiate a settlement, he was thrown into detention when he refused to drop his Canadian court case and was only released after the Canadian government intervened. Adecon now tracks Cuba ships around the world trying to have them impounded in order to be paid. The Canadian government pursued the same tactic two years ago, securing the arrest of a Cuban ship docked in France until Havana settled to Canada's satisfaction out of court. In the 2000-2001 fiscal year, Canadian taxpayers had to pay nearly $22 million to cover exporters' bills on which Cuba had defaulted. Canada has extended a roughly $10 million line of credit to Cuba to help it pay for Canadian agricultural imports, but, as one Canadian official explained, the loan is "not performing." Even Mr. Castro's Marxist buddy, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, stopped shipping oil to Cuba in early August because Havana could not pay for it, as promised, under a five-year trade deal signed in 2000.
While lobbyists clamored last week for trade with Cuba, Canada's Export Development Agency, which provides accounts receivable insurance for Canadian exporters, admits Cuba is no longer "an active market" for the agency. Rod Giles, spokesman for the EDC, concedes it would "not be responsible for us to promote business [in Cuba] considering the current circumstances." Getting paid by the Cubans is not easy.
Canada's constructive engagement has accomplished little and cost Canadians much. The siren call of trade with Mr. Castro's (morally and financially) bankrupt nation is one that Congress should resist. While the old tyrant stays in power, with his sclerotic socialist fingers throttling the economy, there are no fortunes to be made there. Americans can best serve Cubans by ensuring Mr. Castro's communist regime dies with the dictator, rather than giving it further resources it can use to oppress future generations.

John Turley-Ewart has a Ph.D. in Canadian business and political history, and is a member of the National Post's Editorial Board, Canada's national newspaper.

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