HAVANA – With his shirt-sleeves rolled up and a microphone in his hand in the manner of a North American talk show host, a self-confident and relaxed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won over the public attending a talk in the University of Havana’s main auditorium on Wednesday.
Greeting the audience with “Hola! Que bola!” – the popular greeting among Cubans equivalent to “Hi, what’s up?” – Trudeau broke the ice early with the some 200 students and professors on hand, although also present for his talk were President Raul Castro and many of his top government officials.
Trudeau spoke about Cuban-Canadian relations and the recent U.S. presidential elections and responded to questions from the audience.
He said that Donald Trump’s surprise U.S. election win would not alter Canada’s independent and close relationship with Cuba.
“Canada has always been a steadfast and unflinching friend to Cuba, and we’ve never found any contradiction for us between being strong friends to Cuba and good friends and partners with the United States,” Trudeau said.
His visit to the communist island comes 40 years after his late father, Pierre Trudeau, who was Canada’s prime minister at the time, made his famous visit to Cuba and developed a cordial relationship with Fidel Castro, which has endured for decades.
Trudeau noted that Canada is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has maintained diplomatic ties with Cuba since the triumph of the Revolution, adding that on his several trips to the island he had learned why his parents always spoke so highly of Cuba and its people.
He said that many Canadian firms want to invest in Cuba, and referred to the long-standing U.S. embargo of the island, adding that “It’s no surprise we disagree with the approach that the United States has taken with Cuba. We think our approach is much better, of partnership, of collaboration, of engagement, but it’s not our job to tell our friends and allies what they should do and shouldn’t do.”
“It’s our job to make sure that we’re doing what we know we should do and can do in terms of creating opportunities for Canadians, for Canadian companies, but also for Cuba,” Trudeau said.
When asked by the students for his opinion on the U.S. election result, and whether he supports Washington’s lifting of its embargo on the island, Trudeau said that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump late in his campaign promised to “cancel (President Barack) Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal.”
But, although since December 2014 Washington under Obama, a Democratic, has been pursuing a policy of limited rapprochement with Havana, whatever U.S. policy turns out to be under the new Republican administration, that “won’t change the strong relationship that is a friendship and a partnership between Canada and Cuba.”
The students also asked Trudeau about – and he expounded upon – Canada’s policies regarding climate change, immigration and the fight against poverty.