OTTAWA — It will be business as usual for Canada and Cuba despite a renewed hardening of relations between the communist island nation and the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
Trudeau was asked about U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to restore some travel and economic restrictions on Cuba, partially turning back the clock on an easing of tensions embarked upon by Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
While noting that Canada has long taken a softer line with Cuba than U.S. governments, Trudeau said he doesn’t expect the renewed economic and travel restrictions would hurt Canadian business and tourism ties with Cuba.
“We have tremendous respect and a constructive relationship with the United States, but in the matter of Cuba there’s always been a certain amount of disagreement,” Trudeau said during a joint news conference with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
“The investments in Cuba by Canadian companies and business people, the opportunities for tourism, for trade and for mutual benefit in this relationship will certainly continue.
“I don’t see anything new in the dynamic between Canada and Cuba other than a continued desire to work together for mutual benefit.”
Trump complained during a speech in Miami earlier Friday that Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the Obama administration, and announced that penalties imposed on Cuba would remain so long as the Raul Castro government held political prisoners, abused dissidents and restricted freedom of expression.
In a bid to increase pressure on Cuba’s government, Trump said individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, would once again be prohibited.
The U.S. government will also monitor other trips to ensure student travellers, for example, are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.”
But diplomatic ties would not be cut, with embassies in Havana and Washington remaining open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships would also still be allowed to carry passengers to and from Cuba.
Trump said he wanted to ramp up pressure to create a “free Cuba,” predicting an end to communism in the country “in the very near future.”
Trudeau said there have been no conversations with Cuban officials about what role Canada might play in helping to foster a better U.S.-Cuba relationship.
The prime minister’s late father, Pierre Trudeau, caused an international stir in 1976 when he became the first NATO leader to visit Fidel Castro’s Cuba as the Cold War was raging, developing a close bond with Castro that lasted for decades.
Fidel Castro was among Pierre Trudeau’s pallbearers at his funeral in 2000.
There are dozens of Canadian businesses operating in Cuba, including banks, mining companies, a brewery and restaurant franchises.
— with files from the Associated Press