December 1, 2018 12:00 pm

COMMENTARY: If it means coddling Cuba, then a UN Security Council seat just isn’t worth it

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It’s most likely the case that even absent Canada’s campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not exactly be inclined to take a hard line when it comes to Cuba.

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One need look no further than Trudeau’s own fawning memorial to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to see how the regime has an unfortunate soft spot in his heart. Unfortunately, that blind spot has become even more exacerbated as a result of Trudeau’s quixotic quest to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

READ MORE: Trudeau is campaigning to join the UN Security Council — but does Canada stand a chance?

If turning a blind eye to the true nature of the Cuban regime is the price to pay for winning that seat, then frankly it’s not worth it. Not even close.

Even if indifference to the political oppression of the Cuban people is acceptable foreign policy, Canada has a much more pressing interest in taking a firm stance: the safety of our diplomats. Global Affairs Canada has confirmed that another Canadian diplomat in Havana suffered the same mysterious illness that has afflicted a dozen others.

What has been Canada’s official response? Nothing. It’s a silence that has clearly alarmed many diplomats, as revealed by The Globe & Mail’s Doug Saunders. It should alarm the rest of Canada, too.

Saunders’ reporting includes this disturbing quote from one senior diplomat who wished to remain anonymous: “They (Ottawa) are afraid of upsetting Cuba because of Canada’s bid for a UN Security Council seat.” Cuba’s sway over many Latin American and African countries is apparently key to Canada’s campaign.

READ MORE: Trudeau is campaigning to join the UN Security Council — but does Canada stand a chance?

So not only has the bid seemingly taken precedence over demanding answers from the Cubans regarding the safety of our diplomats, it appears to be having a direct impact on our votes in the UN General Assembly.

Last month, eight separate measures were brought forward intended to call out the Cuban regime’s human rights abuses. As the group UN Watch first noted, Canada voted against each and every one of those them — virtually the only western democracy to do so (Norway being the other). One of those measures called on Cuba to respect gender equality — something that is ostensibly a key domestic and foreign policy priority for this government — and yet we still voted ‘no.’

That’s not to say that Canada shouldn’t engage with Cuba or that we should revert to the severe isolation approach of previous U.S. governments. But our recent approach to Cuba undermines so many of Canada’s basic foreign policy principles. We cannot ignore the realities of the Castro regime.

WATCH BELOW: Is Canada’s bid for a UN security council seat worth it?

As noted in the latest annual report from the human rights organization Freedom House, Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries on Earth: “a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts freedoms of the press, assembly, speech, and association. … The regime’s repressive, undemocratic character has not been significantly affected by efforts toward a ‘normalization’ of relations with Washington.”

So if the downside of pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council means we become deliberately oblivious to all of this, then what is the upside? For all the talk of the supposed prestige of holding a seat on the UN Security Council, most Canadians would be hard-pressed to name a current member beyond the permanent five (for the record, they are Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, and Sweden — not exactly the heavy hitters when it comes to global influence).

Moreover, if we are sacrificing our own principles in vain pursuit of this seat, then winning it would prove to be a rather pyrrhic victory. We should always stand up for our values and stand with our allies and if we lose the UN popularity contest, then so be it. Altering our Cuba policy would be a great place to start.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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