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7720: CUBA/CANADA BILATERAL ROW SPILLS OVER TO HAITI (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
HAVANA, April 26, 2001 (IPS) -- A disagreement between Cuba and Canada on
human rights questions led to the cancellation of a jointly sponsored
health program for Haiti, according to documents Cuban President Fidel
Castro presented on national television.
The Cuban-Canadian health project for Haiti was abandoned in 1999
because of a letter from then-foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, the tone of
which was "arrogant, overbearing, interventionist and vindictive,"
according to Castro.
Canada's response to domestic policies implemented in Cuba meant that
Haiti never received the $300,000 Ottawa had pledged for the health
program, said the Cuban president during a panel discussion broadcast live
on television last night.
Human rights is currently a hot issue for Castro because the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights voted last week to censure the island's
Information about the Canadian financial contribution for the Haiti
project had reached Havana through unofficial channels, but was the only
response received as far as the initiative Castro proposed to Canadian
Prime Minister Jean Chretien during the latter's visit to the island in
"It is inconceivable that (Canada) would punish us at the cost of
perhaps thousands of lives of Haitian children who could otherwise have
been saved, given that at the time no fewer than 25,000 people were dying
annually there" from preventable diseases, Castro stated.
According to the Cuban president, the funds could have been used to
purchase vaccines to complement the work begun by Cuban health workers on
the neighboring island, sent there after Hurricane Georges thrashed Haiti
in September 1998.
The principal motive behind Canada's reversal on providing health
assistance to Haiti was allegedly the passage of a law on "the protection
of Cuban national independence and economy," and the subsequent arrest and
sentencing of a political opposition group on this socialist-run island.
The main objectives of the legislation, approved in early 1999, were to
limit the maneuvering room of dissident Cuban organizations and curb their
ties with the United States, and to crack down on subversive activities in
Canada also had voiced concerned about the legal proceedings against the
Internal Dissidence Working Group, better known as the Group of Four, which
had distributed several anti-Castro documents outside the island.
"I have asked my officers to prepare an analysis of the recent measures
adopted by Cuba," says the letter Axworthy sent to then- foreign minister
of Cuba, Roberto Robaina, according to the text Castro read for TV viewers
According to the letter, dated March 4, 1999, Axworthy's position was to
halt any joint initiative between the two countries and to re-think
Canada's response to the Cuban request for "medical cooperation of a third
country in Haiti."
"There is nothing to be done about it now," commented Castro, alluding
to Canada's absence from the Haitian health program, which could have used
the additional support from the beginning.
Official Cuban figures indicate that 861 Cuban doctors and health
technicians have worked in Haiti in the last two years, attending to 62
percent of the 7.8 million people on the impoverished Caribbean island.
This year, Japan donated all the vaccines needed for Cuba to carry out a
first-ever massive health campaign in Haiti to immunize the population
against eight preventable diseases.
The history of the frustrated bilateral project came under Castro's
scrutiny as part of his government's offensive to "unmask" those countries
that voted in favor of the resolution to censure Cuba during the annual
sessions of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights last week in Geneva.
The Cuban president also refuted the statements made by Canada's prime
minister April 18 in a press conference that during his visit to the island
nearly three years ago, he had spent hours discussing human rights with
I spent "hours and hours trying to persuade Castro" to sign
international conventions on human rights, Chretien said in response to a
question about Cuba's exclusion from the third Summit of the Americas, held
April 20-22 in the Canadian city of Quebec.
"I remember many things about the meeting and we did not talk about
that," said Castro, who read a detailed report about each of the
conversations and meetings held with Chretien during the Canadian leader's
1998 visit to Cuba.
He has reproached the Latin American nations that sided against the
island in the U.N. Commission's vote on April 18, accusing them of
succumbing to U.S. pressure.
The motion presented by the Czech Republic in the 53-member U.N. Human
Rights Commission passed by a vote of 22 to 20, with 10 abstentions. The
Democratic Republic of Congo was absent.
Of the 11 Latin American nations on the Commission, Argentina, Costa
Rica, Guatemala and Uruguay voted in favor of the resolution.
Castro referred to the attitude of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and
Peru, which abstained; and of Venezuela, which opposed the motion, as
"courageous," and that it meant these countries were willing to take a
stand against U.S. demands.
The Czech-sponsored resolution condemned Castro's 40-year-old regime for
limiting civil liberties, outlawing political opposition, imprisoning
dissidents, maintaining a tight state grip on the press, and failing to
hold presidential elections.
Cuban authorities, however, say the island's government is a model of
respect for the right to life, health care, education, employment and
social security for all.