It cannot be easy to be America's Northern neighbor. Of course, it is nothing like being America's Southern neighbor. Americans may think that Canucks are quaint but they don't loathe them. On the contrary, they tend to idealize Canada as an unspoilt country, by which they mean that the old stock is less diluted there. Certainly there are no plans to build a wall along the 5000-mile Canadian border, 95 percent of which is unguarded. In fact, even the guarded areas are essentially unguarded, entrants being directed by signs to booths where they can phone-in their passport info when there is actually someone at the other end of the line to take it down.
One would think that those feelings of trust and good-will were reciprocated, that Canadians would look up to their American cousins and cultivate close relations with them, which, insofar as it benefits them, they do. But Canadian politicians and intellectuals also resent and even despise the U.S. for the same reasons that their Mexican counterparts do. These reasons are mainly historical. The U.S. took as many chunks as it could out of Mexico in the 19th century, and tried, also, to cannibalize Canada but with much less success. However, Canada's English settlers were refugees from the American Revolution, colonists loyal to the British who had their property in the 13 Colonies confiscated by the rebels and were forced to flee North for their very lives. In Canadian history, this migration at gunpoint is their "Trail of Tears."
Besides the historical wrongs, real or exaggerated, there is also the fact that Canadians have under-utilized their country and its resources while Americans have exploited theirs to become masters of the earth. Canada is larger by far than the United States but has less than one-tenth its population. That ten percent enjoy a lifestyle comparable to that of the United States and benefit more than Mexico from Canada's proximity to this country. Still, Canadians evidence an even more acute national inferiority complex. Mexicans know who they are: they could hardly be anyone else. Their identity in fact is more fixed than even that of Americans. They do not define their culture or themselves as derivatives of the regional hagemon. But Canadians, because they share a common language with Americans and the same English roots, are not only offshoots of the British but also of their American neighbors. It's easy to forget about Britain and Canadians essentially have. But America is not across an ocean. It is always next door. And Canadians will always be confused with Americans until the day that Americans no longer look like Canadians. Demographers predict that that will be around 2050 when Hispanics are a majority in this country, wall or no wall.
Once you have understood this one-sided rivalry it becomes obvious why "stealing" America's Cuban "colony" became a means for Canadians to affirm their own nationalism. The National Post, in commenting Castro's retirement, acknowledges as much with great introspection and candor. With them it was not only a question of the "enemy of my friend being my friend withal" but of profitting from the alienation of both by contributing to the consolidation of tyranny in Cuba. After nearly 50 years, Canadians at last begin to feel the shame of their hypocrisy and opportunism. This epiphany is too long in coming, but though Canadians cannot undo the harm they have done to innocent Cubans they are still in a position to affect the future positively by declining any longer to be Castro's enablers in this hemisphere.
Recent revelations have shown that Mexico's larcenous presidents over the last 50 years, though officially allied with Castro and his defenders at all international fori, were, many of them, working with the CIA to undermine him, since they not only admired but feared him. There have been no such allegations about Canadian leaders, all of whom, whether Conservative or Liberal, have exploited Cubans without any compunction. Again, it is now the Canadians themselves who are admitting this. Perhaps we will see the day when even The New York Times laments its role in inflicting Castro on the Cuban people. Well, no, that's not going to happen.
The National Post editorial board: Fidel's Sorry Legacy
February 20, 2008
After 49 years of ruling Cuba with an iron fist, 81-year-old Fidel Castro has formally stepped down as president and head of Cuba's armed forces. But there will not be any election to determine his successor. Power in the tropical tyranny is a family matter and Raul Castro, Fidel's 76-year-old brother, will take permanent control of a country he has run for 19 months while Fidel has endured a lengthy illness.
Little has changed during that time — free speech is still suppressed, democracy is crushed, freedom of the press is forbidden, free enterprise is illegal, fair trails are the stuff of dreams, religious freedom is circumscribed, racism against blacks is rampant — and there is no prospect for change in the days to come under brother Raul, who stood by Fidel even after their mother [sister], Lina [Juana], could not and fled Cuba after their 1959 revolution.
Yet the departure of Fidel presents the opportunity for Stephen Harper's Conservative government to rethink Canada's policy toward Cuba, which is both opportunistic and unworthy of a country that pays great heed to human rights.
When Fidel came to Canada in April, 1959, Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker refused to meet him, but he did not refuse to do business with him. When it was clear Fidel was determined to turn Cuba into a communist dictatorship, and that the United States would impose a trade embargo on it, prime minister Diefenbaker beat the Canadian nationalist drum and used the opportunity to win political points at home by playing on anti-American sentiment while generating opportunities for Canadian businesses. This policy helped save the assets of Canadian banks operating in Cuba — the assets of U.S. banks, by contrast, were confiscated — and gave Canadian companies the chance to supply Cuba with goods they could no longer buy from the U.S.
Lester Pearson maintained this policy, while his successor, Pierre Trudeau, lent credibility to Cuba's communists through his personal friendship with Fidel. While Canada was trading with Cuba during the early years of his Fidel's regime, however, roughly 500,000 Cubans — nearly 8% of the total Cuban population — fled the island, more than 77,000 died trying, tens of thousands were unjustly imprisoned and roughly 30,000 were executed by revolutionary firing squads.
Canadian leaders have often defended our Cuba policy saying it constitutes "constructive engagement." Yet little that is constructive has emerged. In 1998, for example, then-prime minister Jean Chretien visited Cuba to make the case for four imprisoned Cuban human rights activists. Mr. Chretien left with a picture of himself with Castro, while the activists continued to languish in jail.
Prime Minister Harper now has the chance to change a historic wrong. No longer should Canada turn a blind eye to the tyranny in Cuba and pretend our policy has been a principled one. Instead, Canadian trade policy should be tied directly to improving human rights and monitoring progress. Moreover, the Canadian government would do the Cuban people a favour by making clear to Canadians that Cuba is, as Theo Caldwell argued in these pages yesterday, an "island prison" — one they should think twice about visiting.
The Canadian "Herbert Matthews" Returns to Cuba 47 Years Later
Cubamania: How Acquainted Are You with Pure Evil?