January 23, 1997
MARGARET WARNER: It was the highest level Canadian visit to Cuba since 1976. At the end of the visit the two ministers issued a joint declaration, pledging cooperation on issues ranging from foreign investment to human rights. President Clinton and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee both reacted to the Canadian visit.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: My reaction is I'm gratified that the Canadians, along with the Europeans, are now talking more to the Cubans about human rights and democratic reforms. I'm skeptical, frankly, that will--that the recent discussions between the Canadians and the Cubans will lead to advances. I believe that our policy is the proper one, but I'm glad that the Canadians are trying to make something good happen in Cuba.
SENATOR JESSE HELMS, (R-NC): We had a fellow named Neville Chamberlain. He went over and sat down with Hitler and came back and said we can do business with this guy. And you saw what happened, as one guy stood up and said, no, no. His name was Winston Churchill. Well, if we're going to forget all principle and let Fidel Castro get by with all of his atrocities; that we'd better look at the status by our principles, and Canada certainly should look at hers.
MARGARET WARNER: This week's joint declaration also called for unspecified cooperation between Canada and Cuba to combat the most recent anti-Cuban measure adopted by the U.S., the so-called Helms-Burton Act, which was sponsored by Chairman Helms. That law imposes sanctions on foreign companies doing business in Cuba on property that was once American until expropriated by the Castro government. Foreign Minister Axworthy joins us now from Ottawa. Welcome, Mr. Minister.
LLOYD AXWORTHY, Foreign Minister, Canada: Nice to be here. Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: What was the purpose of your visit to Cuba and the agreement?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, I think it was to follow through on an engagement to see if we could help assist in changes taking place in that country, to open up a dialogue on human rights issues, and to provide for more protection on the business investments going in. We're now negotiating a foreign investment protection agreement for our businesses. So it had a wide range, but it was primarily to open up a dialogue to see if we can support and produce changes that would open the system up.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, you heard President Clinton and also Sen. Helms, President Clinton saying he was skeptical that your kind of engagement can really make any difference in Cuba. Do you see any evidence to the contrary? You obviously believe to the contrary, but why?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, we started with an invitation from the Cubans to hold a series of discussions. And during those discussions over the past several months we put on the table that they would have to take into account human rights questions. They agreed to do that. We have now established some very concrete measures. We will be sending officials down next month from the Department of Foreign Affairs, our Justice Department, to have a direct exchange with Cuba about human rights issues as it relates to the U.N., as it relates bilaterally. That's an important beginning. We have also agreed to sponsor a major meeting on children and women's rights that will take place in Cuba in April. We've started working with them on the establishment of a commission for citizens' grievances that can provide transparent due process for citizens' complaints. Those are small changes, but they're a beginning. They're an important start. And, you know, when I was in Cuba, I met with a number of NGO's who said--
MARGARET WARNER: Those are non-governmental organizations.
LLOYD AXWORTHY: I'm sorry.
MARGARET WARNER: Charitable.
LLOYD AXWORTHY: That's right--church organizations and others who said they have seen over the last three or four years a broadening of the space in which they can operate; that they felt it was very important to have the international community support that work, to have a country like Canada in there trying to help develop that space and to provide some clear rules by which it could take place. And that's how you're going to get change in Cuba, not the kind of cataclysmic changes like Mr. Helms wants, but a peaceful transition. And that's what we want to promote.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Mr. Minister, at least to most Americans this is--Cuba is still a country where if the government would let them, tens of thousands of people would flee immediately for the United States. I guess it just seems difficult to believe that there are really substantive changes going on there. Did you see any yourself?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, one thing that's happened that maybe there has to be more analysis or thought given to is that once Cuba found itself severed from its close connections with the old Soviet Union it had to adapt. The Soviet Union is its biggest market, is its customer, its creditor. It's had to make major changes. It's now into a dollar economy. It has some free markets starting in the agricultural areas. It is inviting all kinds of foreign investment. Those are kind of strategies the United States' follows with other countries. Let's start with these openings and then get into major dialogues. We've agreement now to start helping to train judges and legal officers. I believe that there are some changes taking place. I can't predict where they'll go, but at least it's worth making an effort to promote them, and as the President said, let's engage. He may be skeptical, but, as you know, we've differed over the last 30 years about the U.S. and Canadian approaches. We feel our way will be more effective. But I think as long as we can maintain a healthy respect for our differences on this approach we may be able to see some real changes with Cuba, and I think that will also help in the hemisphere. I don't think anybody would gain by having a huge upheaval in Cuba over a period of time I think working towards peaceful transition, much more effective.
|Two competing interests|
MARGARET WARNER: Did you get any concrete assurances from either Mr. Castro or from the foreign minister about things like the release of political prisoners, for example?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: I raised those issues. We talked seriously about them. We had a major dialogue about them. He didn't give me an assurance within 24 hours, but let's see what the results will be. I think it was fairly rare, or unique, to be able to have the opportunity for a period of over five hours to engage in that debate, that kind of a dialogue, to plant what we think would be a more effective approach. And I make the case that Cuba wants to be part of the international community. It has to agree to the norms and standards of the international community. At least we had the opportunity to go face to face and to, you know, their foreign minister said something important to me. He said, “All kinds of people talk about Cuba; very few come and talk to us about it.” We are prepared to talk to them about it and then determine if we get results. And we're not making any grand predictions. We will take step by step. We'll see what the results will be, and we'll put that against the test as to whether progress and change will be made. But at least we're making an effort, and I would say we believe that it's a more effective way of doing it than isolating Cuba totally from the rest of the community.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think there's any chance that Canada is perhaps being naive here? I mean, you're going to give Cuba a great deal in the way of additional investment and other kinds of assistance, I think some medical assistance. Are you convinced that this is in good faith on the Cubans' part?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, I mean, I didn't consider it naive when Mr. Christopher before Christmas went to China to talk to the Chinese leaders about more economic aid but also getting into a dialogue on human rights issues. It's a practice that the United States follows in many other countries. It's a question of do you want to try to make an effort to see changes, or do you want to have a conflict, or have this kind of confrontation that the United States has had with Cuba for over 30 years?
You know, we're not being naive. I think we go into this in a--we didn't do this overnight. We have been engaged in this kind of dialogue for a long time, and specifically over the last year have tested out very carefully the degree of sincerity. And we will continue to do that, but at least we believe that as we try to build a more cooperative international environment, especially in our own hemisphere, we have to find ways of working together. And the conflict between the United States and Cuba is one of those major problem areas that I think inhibits greater cooperation in our hemisphere. We're very pleased. The President in his new term will be making a real effort going to Mexico, going to Latin America. There's real opportunities for us to do things together in this hemisphere, but I think we have to resolve the question of Cuba along the way.
MARGARET WARNER: What has been the effect of this Helms-Burton Act on Canadian businesses doing business in Cuba?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, what I thought is that there is a wide variety of investments taking place in Cuba. Our objection to the Helms-Burton law is one we don't think the Congress of the United States should have the right to tell the countries how to conduct their business with a third party, and secondly, and I think this was a very important point, the United States has taken a lead over the years in developing a set of rules to govern international trade, international investment, international cooperation, and we've all been the beneficiaries of that. But when the United States unilaterally changes those rules, not in a collegial way, not in a way that's joint decision making, but unilaterally, it undermines that system; it weakens the system. And that's why Helms-Burton is bad legislation.
It really does undermine what the United States has stood for for so long, which is to work out cooperation internationally for broader economic growth, for creation of jobs and investment. And that's why, as you know, the United States has been very much isolated on this bill. Not just Canada but the Europeans and Latin Americans and Asians have all objected very strenuously to this unilateral interpretation. And I would hope that over time that that could be changed.
MARGARET WARNER: And what further steps is Canada, either acting singly or with Cuba, planning to take to try to combat Helms-Burton?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, we made no agreement with the Cubans to combat Helms-Burton. We are dealing on a bilateral basis. Helms-Burton was not much of a discussion, frankly, between us. We have taken our steps. As you know, we have passed legislation in our own parliament to counter the Helms-Burton bill, if necessary. Fortunately, the President has deferred action on this, and we appreciate that. And we appreciate that. We still want to see the legislation changed, but we have no combined action with Cuba. We've worked very closely with Latin American states, the OAS, with the Europeans. There's action taking place in the World Trade Organization. And that's all a signal to say, look, this legislation is not good for any of us; it should be changed. Our issues with Cuba were to sit down in concrete measures, to talk about support for NGO's, to help reform the judicial system, to help provide a major dialogue on human rights and to provide protection for investment, to start talking about anti-terrorism issues, drug trafficking. Those are issues which are important to all of us, and we want to engage Cuba the same way that we engage other countries.
MARGARET WARNER: Now tell us about your meetings with Mr. Castro, that is, how he struck you. Is he still a committed Marxist?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: Well, we had a very strong exchange. As you know, we had an official dinner one night but then he came back for a second round. We talked about a wide variety of issues. Certainly he has very strong points of view. But what I thought was important, he was prepared to engage. It wasn't an audience. He was across the table, along with his ministers, and we had an opportunity for a very substantial period of time to put our case--they put their case backwards--I think we found some meeting grounds in some areas. Others, we just disagreed on, but we're going to continue to make that case, and we now have a process in place, a regular process by which we can continue that dialogue and provide advice and recommendations on how we can, as I say, help develop a more independent commission. I'm hoping those things will result in changes.
MARGARET WARNER: In talking with him, though, as you pointed out, Cuba has opened up in some ways economically because it's had to since the Soviet Union no longer is helping it out. Did you sense that he--that has caused changes in the way he thinks at all? Is he searching for different ways to make this work?
LLOYD AXWORTHY: I don't think there's any doubt not just Mr. Castro but his entire government have had to go through major adjustments and adaptations. They're retooling their economy. They now have a dollar-based economy. They now are setting new rules in place, and the argument we are making is that as you attempt to pluralize your economy, you have to pluralize your political system. And that's why one of the strong objectives we had was to give more support for the development of the ground-based, community-based community of people in Cuba through citizens organizations, through church-based organizations, and to provide some protection in those areas. That's, you know, in some ways how you can help democracy grow, not just by having formalized elections but going back to the views of Thomas Jefferson in your own country. You have to help build up sort of the base of community organizations in a country to provide that mediation for people to express themselves and to work through it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Minister, very much.
LLOYD AXWORTHY: You're quite welcome. Thank you.