BY NED DMYTRYSHYN
VANCOUVER - The Canadian government is leading the international chorus of objections to the Helms-Burton bill among imperialist rivals of Washington. The measure would tighten the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
The U.S. Congress approved the bill in early March, and President Bill Clinton promised to sign it. This move was part of Washington's step-up of hostilities against Cuba after two planes piloted by members of a right-wing Cuban-American group were shot down February 24 while on a belligerent mission over Cuba's territorial waters.
Ottawa's opposition to the bill has nothing to do with sympathy for the Cuban government or respect for its sovereignty. In a February 27 letter to U.S. Congress, Raymond Chrétien, Canadian ambassador to the United States, says, "Canada shares the United States' outrage over the Cuban government's shooting down of two unarmed civilian aircraft. Canada has condemned Cuba's actions as an excessive and illegal use of force which violated internationally accepted rules for the interception of civilian aircraft."
The Canadian government opposes the "extraterritorial" aspects of the Helms-Burton bill, which would penalize non-U.S. companies that invest in Cuban property that was expropriated from U.S. businessmen in the early 1960s.
Non-U.S. citizens associated with such companies could be barred from entering the United States along with their immediate families. The bill would also allow Cuban-Americans to sue companies for damages in some cases.
Art Eggleton, Canada's International Trade Minister, visited Washington March 4 to lobby for changes in the bill. He met with U.S. trade representative Mickey Kantor. The March 1 Toronto Globe and Mail reported that Eggleton warned the Helms-Burton bill "violates the North America Free Trade Agreement and could trigger a trade fight with Canada and other countries that trade with Cuba." He told reporters, "It's a dangerous precedent when one country can say, `If you trade with someone else, you can't trade with us.' "
"The most important first step is to see if we can avoid any major dispute by having the parts of the bill that apply to Canada exempted," suggested Canada's foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, on March 1.
Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien sought to rally opposition to Helms-Burton at a meeting in early March of members of the Caribbean Community, held in Grenada. Caricom governments criticized the U.S. measure.
In one sign of the growing interimperialist rivalries and tensions, Marc Thiessen, a spokesperson for the Senate foreign- relations committee in Washington, declared, "Any Canadian business that is benefiting from, profiting from or trafficking in expropriated American property, that is, property stolen by the Cuban government from American citizens, is going to be in a heap of trouble.... They better call their lawyers because if they keep on doing it they are going to wind up in court. We want to create an investment minefield in Cuba."
More than 30 Canadian companies have investments of U.S.$200 million in Cuba. Some 25 Canadian companies have offices in Cuba. The companies represent a variety of industries including coal exploration, agribusiness and computer software.
The Helms-Burton bill could affect businesses with even remote links to Cuba including banks, telephone companies, airlines and travel agencies. One of those affected would be Sherritt International Corp., which has acquired a 50 percent share of the Moa nickel plant in eastern Cuba, previously owned by a U.S. corporation until it was expropriated by Cuban workers.
An article entitled "Canadian firms edgy over Cuba legislation" in the March 2 Globe and Mail explains that Canadian companies like Montreal-based National Bank and Toronto-based Delta Hotels and Resorts are vulnerable because they have operations in both Cuba and the United States. Delta manages six resorts in Cuba.
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