Although Canada feels that the US trade embargo against Cuba is not the way to go, its removal is ultimately a matter between Cuba and the United States, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.
Speaking at a news conference at the Media Centre at the International Finance Centre, Port of Spain, Harper said:
"The vast majority of countries here understand that while we would like to see progress, this is ultimately a relationship between the United States and Cuba.
"Historically, we (Canada) maintain diplomatic relations and economic interaction with Cuba. And if we are to move Cuba forward economically, my sense is that trying to find ways to engage (it) economically will enhance that objective. If one wants to break down state socialist and economic nationalist policies, I don't think a trade embargo is the way to do that," Harper stated.
"That said, we can't turn a blind eye to the fact that Cuba is a communist nation, and we want to see progress on freedom, democracy and human rights, as well as on economic matters," he said.
Harper announced that Canada will supply 1,600 scholarships for students and researchers in the region who develop their knowledge and skills in Canada for the future benefit of their own country.
He also stated that Canada was working towards doubling its capital subscription to the Inter-American Development Bank to ensure access to credit in this region.
In response to a question, Harper said his view was that most countries of the Americas subscribed to the principle that free, open markets were the universal generators of prosperity. He said the countries of ALBA (Alternative for the Americas) constituted a small minority at the summit which had a distinctly different view on fundamental economic policy. He said Central American leaders, on the other hand, were very anxious to push forward very aggressively the trade negotiations with Canada.
Harper said some countries wanted to keep fighting the Cold War. Asked about the speeches delivered at the opening ceremony, Harper said some of the Caribbean leaders spoke very eloquently. "But I think President Obama really demonstrated that in this business, less is often more," he said.
On yesterday's deliberations among the leaders, Harper said: "The mood in the room is good, even though there is disagreement, and there is a small bloc of countries with a very different economic vision from the rest of us," he said.
"I think it helps that one of our foreign-policy objectives is strengthening the relationship with the Americas. We have had, historically, close relations with the Caribbean. We haven't had that so much with Latin America, and it is more difficult when there is a chill between the US and Latin America," he said.
Harper stated, however, that Canada has been dramatically increasing its trade and free trade with the countries of the Americas. We have or are negotiating free-trade agreements with virtually every country in the hemisphere. He said Canada had trade agreements with the US and Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Panama, and were negotiating with Caricom and Central America.