AS AN OFTEN frustrated press coordinator for Canadian aid shipments to Havana, I gained great satisfaction watching the Olympics compete with Cuba for media attention.
Credit has to go to our newsmaking prime minister, Jean Chrétien. After throwing in the towel on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which virtually hands over Canada’s resources and nationalized industries to U.S. corporations, our PM has suddenly become a fighter. Jumping into the ring, he’s rallied his official counterparts abroad to toss punches at the anti-Cuba Helms-Burton law (H-B) passed in the States.
At issue are sections of H-B enabling U.S. firms to sue foreign companies “trafficking” with nationalized property in Cuba that was owned by Wall Street interests before the 1959 revolution.
As well, H-B bars “traffickers” — foreign corporate chiefs and their families — from entry into the USA. Clinton’s State Department has already issued letters to CEOs in Britain, Mexico, and Canada giving them 45 days to divest from Cuba, or else forego cherished trips to Disney World!
Official concern for corporations, not Cuba. Canada is Cuba’s largest trading partner, with 30 businesses having island investments of 500 million dollars and two dozen others engaged in trade. And Canadians comprise the bulk of Cuba’s tourists to Cuba.
Canada’s annual business with Cuba, however, is comparable to just one day of exchange with the U.S. But Chrétien is battling for a capitalist principle — freedom of business association.
Chrétien easily agitated all of the major economic powers in the Group of Seven against the U.S., along with the 15 countries of the European Union. In angry Mexico, parties across the political spectrum have pledged to slap reciprocal sanctions against U.S. enterprises trying to use H-B and to pass una ley antídoto — an “antidote law.”
It isn’t that the heads of these governments are in sympathy with the Cuban revolution, of course. Their message to the U.S. is, “Don’t undermine our right to amass corporate profits while you work on toppling your enemies.”
To abate an international diplomatic showdown before the U.S. elections, Clinton cannily suspended the right to file lawsuits under Helms-Burton until February 1997.
Workers have a broader agenda. H-B is aimed at crippling Castro’s government and undoing socialized property relations on the island — the means by which Cubans advanced from abject poverty under the U.S.-backed dictator Batista to an enviable level of development based on meeting people’s needs.
Canadian working people feel that H-B is a punishment for our 50 years of unbroken relations with the Cuban workers state. We’re outraged at the extra-territorial, sovereignty-denying reach of H-B. We know that the U.S. is responding to the challenge posed by Cuba’s system of free, quality education and healthcare. And we also know that our own healthcare network, inferior to Cuba’s but far superior to that in the States, is under the scalpel of the U.S. medical complex because of NAFTA.
These sentiments are reflected in a 1996 Canadian Labour Congress resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and military threat against Cuba, praises Cuba’s commitment to international labour solidarity, defends Cuba’s right to self-determination, and encourages Labour Congress members to strengthen ties with their Cuban compatriots.
The right to collective ownership. Cuban workers and farmers exercised a completely legitimate right when they nationalized big private holdings to ensure that their entire people would benefit from the island’s wealth. With H-B, the U.S. ruling class is trying to deny Cubans this sovereign right by denying the sovereign rights of every U.S. ally!
Clearly, if Canadians were to choose the same path as Cuba has chosen, we would be in for the same treatment.
Cuban-American U.S. congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart threatens to snatch Canadian businessmen off the streets of Toronto and bring them to trial after Castro’s anticipated defeat for “collaboration.” And congressman Jesse Helms, one of the bill’s authors, whines, “The U.S. has rescued every one of them [countries protesting his legislation] from tyranny at one time or another. And this is the thanks we get.”
We’re supposed to be grateful? You ain’t seen nothing yet, Jesse. Come the day of the Soviets of Canada, you’re in for a mountain of gratitude!