By Mike Blanchfield, Canwest News Service
Canada’s cabinet minister for Latin America says he has no regrets about chiding Cuba on human rights, even though Havana abruptly canceled the trip he was to make there next week.
But Peter Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs for the Americas, says Canada has only good intentions in helping Cuba reform. That’s because it stands “at a crossroads in history” with positive overtures coming from U.S. President Barack Obama that could end the half-century-old U.S. embargo which the minister says has isolated Cuba.
In an interview with Canwest News Service and Global News, Kent said the quiet diplomacy or “constructive engagement” of past Liberal governments has not worked and that Canadians expect their government to conduct human rights discussions in the open, not behind closed doors.
“This government is much more open in its discussion of foreign policy in speaking up on human rights, not just in the Cuban situation, but in other countries around the world and I think that the Canadian public as well, as perhaps citizens of Cuba . . . deserve a chance to see the process,” said Kent.
“We are very understanding of the Cuban situation. They have been isolated through the years of the Cold War by the Helms Burton embargo, but Cuba stands today at a crossroads of history and Canada.”
Kent learned 10 days ago that his planned trip to Havana was no longer possible. The Cuban government gave no clear explanation other than it would not be able to accommodate him. It is unclear whether Kent’s tough language—as well as some frank talk from Prime Minister Stephen Harper about Cuba’s totalitarian state—rubbed the Cuban communist regime the wrong way.
Kent has previously said he wanted to use the trip to prod the Castro regime to release political prisoners, to show better respect for human rights and to open itself up to allowing meaningful political dissent.