On July 11 and 12 of this year, more than 187,000 Cubans gathered across the island to demand freedom and democracy in Cuba. If Canadians are friends of the Cuban people, then we should listen to their voices. It is time for Canada to lead an international effort to publicly condemn and take action against gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Cuban regime against peaceful protestors.
It is unacceptable that the Trudeau government has neglected to take a firm stand in the face of arbitrary arrests, appalling police surveillance, torture and politically motivated imprisonment perpetrated against dissident artists, journalists and activists in Cuba.
In 2016, one year after taking office, Justin Trudeau said that he reaffirmed “our commitment – as individuals and as a country – to the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.” However, the actual record of Trudeau’s government has not matched its rhetoric.
Canada must now rise to this historic moment and rethink its foreign policy towards Cuba, understanding that Cubans deserve to live in a democracy.
I recently met on Parliament Hill with a group of Cuban-Canadians. They expressed to me the need for an urgent change in Canadian foreign policy because Canadian tourism and investment are helping to prop up Cuba’s one-party state, as well as the entire repressive regime. Their views gave me a better understanding of the role Canada should play at a time when the Cuban people are demanding to live in freedom and democracy.
During our exchanges, I was asked a question worthy of reflection: “If you knew that your Cuban vacation was helping to strengthen the system that persecutes and sends innocent artists and journalists to jail, would you still travel to Cuba?”
Canada, the number one source of tourism to and investment in the island, should reflect on how it is helping to strengthen the Cuban regime. Canadians should be aware that there is no possible way to spend or invest money in Cuba without enriching and sustaining the Cuban government.
The Cuban military, through its holding company the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA), controls an important part of the Cuban tourism economy. It operates hotels, financial institutions, import/export companies, transportation and more. According to Bloomberg, it is estimated that in 2015 GAESA dominated between 50% and 80% of business revenues in Cuba.
Contrary to what the Cuban regime claims, the money Canadians spend in Cuba does not contribute to improving the lives of Cubans; instead, it bankrolls the regime’s repression.
Global Fire Power states that Cuba has the sixth-largest paramilitary force in the world, which is mobilized to monitor and repress human rights activists, journalists, artists and critics. Meanwhile, a physician on the island with two specialties earns $310 CAD monthly, a salary much lower than the $357 CAD monthly earned by a deputy correctional officer without a high school education.
Further, Cuba’s tourism revenues are disproportionately invested in business and hotel construction, not in education, public health or social assistance programs. While the Cuban military invests in its plans to build 90,000 hotel rooms by 2030, the people suffer from a lack of food, medications and oxygen in hospitals — and Cuba is undergoing the worst wave of COVID-19 to date. At the same time, people are suffering from a lack of ambulances, supposedly due to a lack of fuel; yet the regime has ample resources to mobilize its paramilitary forces in convoys of trucks, vans and buses, equipping them to arbitrarily detain thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the aftermath of the July 11 protests.
With all of this in mind, I encourage Canadians to ask themselves why we should spend our money in a country whose government uses it not to improve the lives of its people, but to repress them and cling to power for decades.
Canadians are known worldwide as defenders of universal human rights. As a senator who champions freedom and democracy around the world, I am committed to raising awareness among my fellow Canadians about the moral and ethical implications of spending our money in Cuba, which is a beautiful island that is governed by a political regime that preys on the people’s rights.
Here in Canada, the Conservatives publicly support the pro-democracy movement in Cuba and condemn the regime’s brutal repression of its people.
That is why the Conservative Platform explicitly says that a new Conservative Government will: “Support the Cuban People in their push for the democracy and freedom they deserve”.
We understand that for a peaceful, democratic movement to succeed in Cuba, Canada’s solidarity and support are required. The Cuban people deserve our support and I believe we must be prepared to provide it.