That, in the opinion of this House, the government should condemn in the strongest possible terms the inhumane embargo of Cuba by the United States; that the condemnation be made at the United Nations, the Organization of American States and directly to the U.S. administration; and, that Canada restore full bilateral aid and trade with Cuba.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to raise in the House an issue of fundamental importance to the relationship between the people of Canada, the people of Cuba and, in particular as my motion points out, to the impact on the people of Cuba of the blockade by the United States.
The motion before the House this morning has three components basically. First, it calls on the Government of Canada to condemn in the strongest possible terms the inhumane embargo of Cuba by the United States. It calls for that condemnation to be made at all possible opportunities, both bilateral and multilateral; at the United Nations, the Organization of American States and directly to the United States administration. Finally, the motion calls on Canada to restore full bilateral aid and trade. There is trade now but we should promote, strengthen and support that trade with Cuba.
This is a significant time in the relationship between Canada and Cuba. In fact, 1995 is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba. Those diplomatic relations have remained unbroken since 1945, a fact of which I as a Canadian am very proud. Canada was one of only two countries, the other being Mexico, that did not break diplomatic relations with Cuba following the triumph of the revolution in 1959. We celebrate that this year. In fact, there will be a number of celebrations, both in Canada and in Cuba next month.
As well, 1995 is the centenary of the death of the great Cuban revolutionary hero, José Marti, who died on May 19, 1885.
This is also an important week for this motion to be debated in the House. Today the Secretary General of the OAS, the Organization of American States, Mr. Gavaria, is in Canada. Later this week the President of the United States, President Bill Clinton, will be visiting as well. I trust that the government will take the opportunity, in particular the Prime Minister, to raise directly with President Clinton the destructive impact of the United States blockade on Cuba. I hope that he will take that opportunity this week.
I also regret that the Bloc Quebecois will apparently not support this motion. Frankly, I find it surprising that the Bloc Quebecois, although several Bloc members are taking an active role in the Canadian parliamentary group on Cuba, will speak against a motion to lift the embargo against Cuba, to promote free trade and bilateral aid for Cuba. I can only presume that once again the Bloc Quebecois took this surprising position because of the priority it gives to relations with the United States.
The Bloc supported cruise missile testing; the Bloc supported the free trade agreement; the Bloc now supports the United States' immoral and illegal embargo. This is unbelievable and unacceptable, especially because many groups in Quebec, for example Carrefour culturel de l'amitié Québec-Cuba and Oxfam Québec, are demanding, like other Canadians, that the inhumane and cruel embargo against Cuba be lifted and that the Liberal government put this issue high on the list of items on the agenda for the upcoming meeting with the American president.
Once again, the Bloc Quebecois does not speak for Quebecers on this fundamental humanitarian issue of rights for Cubans. It is a pity that we have had to do this in their stead.
I would note as well that at a major international solidarity meeting last November in Havana, 1995 was declared the international year of José Marti and the struggle against the blockade. This is a motion which is of particular significance in this important year.
Last month I had the honour of participating in the first ever Canadian parliamentary delegation which was hosted by the National Assembly of Cuba. I see a number of my colleagues from all sides of the House who participated in that delegation.
Unfortunately the hon. member for Laval East was not able to take part, but she supported us. She supported the requests, as did many other Bloc Quebecois members. The member for Bourassa, for one, would be surprised to see the position taken by the Bloc today.
We met with many groups. We met with Cuban organizations, with individuals and with ministers. We had the opportunity to meet with Fidel Castro. We visited schools, hospitals and research centres. Our group was hosted on this historic visit by the president of the corresponding group in Cuba, the Minister of Education, Luis Gomes. During that same time frame, a large number of NGOs were visiting Cuba under the auspices of the Cuba-Canada Inter-Agency Project made up of some 36 Canadian NGOs and churches and 25 community based organizations.
These NGOs have played an extraordinary role in helping to promote greater understanding, awareness, and solidarity with the people of Cuba. They include groups such as Oxfam Canada, the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation, CUSO, the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as many groups based in Quebec.
I want to take this opportunity in speaking of NGOs to also pay tribute to the many Canadian NGOs, churches, groups and individuals who have demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Cuba at this very difficult time for that country. Last August a group from across Canada, the brigadistas, travelled to Cuba to demonstrate their solidarity by working directly with the people of Cuba. The friendship groups assist in helping to provide desperately needed aid, particularly humanitarian aid, to the people of Cuba.
Many different elements of the labour movement have demonstrated concrete solidarity. I salute here the recent leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress on this issue, the Canadian-Cuban Friendship Association in British Columbia, in my own area, and many others. All of these groups, without exception, have called on the United States government to lift the illegal and immoral blockade which has been in force since 1963.
At the most recent vote of the United Nations, 101 countries voted in favour of the lifting of the blockade and only two, the United States and Israel, opposed the resolution. Instead of responding to this appeal from around the world, what is the response of the leaders of the United States congress? The new chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, Jesse Helms, says he wants to strengthen the blockade. That is absolutely unbelievable. He wants to effectively put an iron noose around Cuba. The test will come with the response of the United States president.
It is time for President Clinton to stop listening to the right wing reactionary forces based in Miami, the Cuban American National Foundation, the Mas Canosas, and start listening to the progressive voices of the American people, including a number of Cuban Americans. It is time he started listening to the voices of his closest neighbours, the Canadian government and the Mexican government, that have called for a lifting of this blockade.
It is time he started listening to some of his own legislators, democratic senators, members of the House of Representatives, like Claiborne Pell, Charles Rangel, José Seranno and others. Even the Wall Street Journal is calling on the United States administration to lift the embargo.
The impact of the blockade has been devastating. Together with the collapse of trade with Russia and eastern Europe, and some admitted inefficiencies in the Cuban economy, the impact has been devastating. Dr. Benjamin Spock, when he visited Cuba in 1993, wrote on his return: "When I visited Cuba I discovered pediatricians at otherwise splendid hospitals who spent every morning counting medication for the children. The director of a day care centre dreaded that the milk supply would dry up for her preschoolers, as it has for all Cuban children older than seven. How should we feel about an embargo that is keeping food and medicines from Cuban children?" I feel ashamed.
There are widespread hardships as a result of the embargo. One of the ironies is that these hardships even affect the American people. My colleagues and I visited a research facility in Havana which makes drugs that assist in traumatic heart attacks. These drugs, called recombinant streptokinase, would save American lives. Are Americans allowed access to them under the blockade? No. It is the same with a vaccine against meningitis B developed in Cuba. It cannot be distributed so it is hurting the United States as well.
In the midst of all the hardship as a result of the blockade, the Cuban government and the Cuban people have maintained a commitment to fundamental human and socialist values. For example, infant mortality rates in Cuba are the lowest in Latin America. They are lower than in many American cities. According to the most recent UNICEF figures it is about 9.9 per cent, one of the best records in the world. It is sort of ironic that the United States lectures Cuba on human rights.
Yes, we acknowledge there are concerns around human rights particularly in the areas of freedom of speech and freedom of association. There are concerns with respect to the treatment of gays and lesbians in Cuba. The situation is better but the history in that country is certainly not a happy one.
For the United States to lecture Cuba on human rights when it has a record of child poverty, of homelessness, of 37 million Americans with no health insurance whatsoever and of people with AIDS begging for funds to survive in the streets with unprecedented levels of crime, reeks of hypocrisy. It is not good enough. When they raise concerns around human rights in Cuba and are silent with respect to massive human rights violations in Guatemala, East Timor and elsewhere, it is not good enough.
In the midst of some of the most difficult economic times in the history of Cuba, Cuba is able to maintain its international solidarity. Over 13,000 children victims of the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl were assisted by the Government of Cuba. I personally saw a number of these children at a rehabilitation facility at Tarara just outside Havanah. This speaks probably more eloquently than anything else to the sense of international solidarity of the people of Cuba. Even at a time of difficult economic circumstances they are prepared to extend a hand to the poorest, to the most vulnerable in our communities.
Canada has an opportunity to play an important bridging role at this time to promote direct dialogue at last between the Government of Cuba and the Government of the United States. If the Government of the United States can maintain most favoured nation status with China, if it can end its embargo against Vietnam, if it can begin negotiations with North Korea, why this absurd and destructive obsession with Cuba?
What can we do? In the couple of minutes remaining I want to set out some alternatives. Canada can play an important role by extending and strengthening trade. I commend the Canadian ambassador to Cuba, Mark Entwistle, for the leadership and energy he has shown on this front.
We can strengthen EDC financing. We can ensure that we meet the kinds of standards other countries have set. We can promote support for environmental projects. Cuba has the opportunity to be an international environmental leader. Dr. Patricia Lane in particular from Dalhousie University has shown leadership in this regard. For example, they are trying to clean up some of the pollution in the Almendares River and others. This is the kind of role that Canada can play and play effectively.
We can promote strengthening bilateral aid and moving it beyond partnership and establishing a central co-ordination point within the foreign affairs ministry for responding to Cuba.
Perhaps one of the key components or priority in the trade area is negotiating now a foreign investment protection agreement. Other countries are far ahead of Canada in this regard. Spain, Mexico, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom have already negotiated agreements. We have heard one message loud and clear from Canadian businesses. It is to get that in place. We have heard the same message from our diplomats. I hope the government will move soon on that.
Finally, we should ensure that Cuba is fully reintegrated into all multilateral organizations: the OAS, the World Bank and the IMF. It was shameful that Cuba was excluded from the Miami summit. I was pleased the Prime Minister spoke out against that.
In closing, I hope we as Canadians take advantage of this key year, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Cuba, to send a strong message to our friends in the American administration that it is time to end the illegal and immoral blockade.
We will be hosting the foreign minister in the near future, Roberto Robaino. We will be hosting the president of the National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, and hopefully Minister of Education Gomes as well. I hope our Minister for International Trade will be travelling soon to Cuba.
Canada has a historic opportunity here. I urge the House to join in sending a message today to the American administration and to our government that the time has come to lift the blockade, to respect the strong, proud and dignified people of Cuba and to reintegrate them fully into the community of nations.