PM champions free trade at Americas summit
Harper insists he's not at odds with other leaders, but clash
of ideologies still evident
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago
— Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's not at odds with most leaders at
the Summit of the Americas, arguing that the vast majority of the 34 leaders
here are free-traders, barring a small block of leftists who are still
fighting the Cold War.
While U.S. President Barack Obama has proffered
“equal partnership” with Latin America and the Caribbean, and promised to
help alleviate poverty during an economic crisis, Mr. Harper has championed
free trade and emphasized the need to avoid protectionism.
“There are some countries that want to keep fighting the Cold War and
frankly wars that go a lot farther back than that,” Mr. Harper said at a
brief press conference. He added: “I thought President Obama really
demonstrated how in this business, less is often more.”
Despite friendly handshakes between Mr. Obama and Hugo Chavez,
Venezuela's leftist leader, there has been an evident clash of ideologies at
Bolivian President Evo Morales called for the world to reject the neo-liberal
capitalism which he said caused the economic crisis. And on Friday, in a long,
winding speech reminiscent of Fidel Castro's marathons, Mr. Morales's ally
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega railed about the dictatorship of global
capitalism, keeping the assembly waiting an hour to hear Mr. Obama's more pithy
The Prime Minsiter's free-trade refrain has made him appear a bit of a lone
wolf at this summit – the very forum that four years ago angrily sunk a proposal
for hemispheric free trade. He said he raised it in two plenary sessions Friday;
officials from other delegations said no one else did.
But Mr. Harper argued he is in the majority, and that outside of a small
block, all the leaders are free-traders, and share his views.
“There are a lot of differences between these countries of Latin America.
There are countries with very conservative economic policies. And for the vast
majority, they are countries that accept the principle of the globalization of
the economy. Obviously there's a certain group that has a very different
tendency, but the dialogue's there.”
Oddly, Mr. Harper, who two years ago told Latin Americans that Canada offers
a third way between the unbridled capitalism of the U.S. and state socialism – a
presumed reference to Mr. Chavez – has seen Mr. Obama claim that terrain. The
U.S. President called such extreme alternatives false choices in his speech
Mr. Harper has focused far more on free trade this time, but it certainly
does not fit the rhetoric of this summit, where the phrase raises a reminder of
the failed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, killed four years ago in
acrimonious battle at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Many Latin American and Caribbean countries no longer want to talk about
classical free-trade agreements, and instead want trade-and-development deals
that see developed countries commit aid programs. Mr. Harper noted countries
like Colombia and Peru have signed trade deals with Canada, and Panama is
Mr. Harper's free-market approach, however, did not stop him from urging the
U.S. to take a different tack with Cuba – in fact, it was the basis of his
He went further than previously in urging a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations,
arguing the trade embargo should be ended.
“If one wants to break down a state-socialist economic nationalist model with
walls, I don't think a trade embargo's the way to do that. So we would obviously
urge a different course of action.”
“That said … we don't turn a blind eye to the fact that Cuba is a communist
dictatorship and that we want to see progress on freedom, democracy and human
rights as well as on economic matters.”
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
A rare example of Mr. Harper being ahead of the game, a
very predictable game with an obvious result of normalization of Cuba-US
relations. Mr. Obama does not need any direction from Mr. Harper. Canadians need
to remember that Mr. Harper is primarily driven by a blind red necked Republican
ideology that virtually mirrored and parroted the gospel of George Bush.
Most probably, Mr. Harper has on another of his rare lucid moments, has chosen
to lead the world with what he knows are firm opinions of Canadians who are
accustomed to cheap vacations in Cuba and drinking 7 years old Havana Club Rum
not to mention the elderly male tourist business of relations with Cuban female
You can see that Mr. Harper's statement's contradict the Bush dogma and would
probably not have made if Bush or Republican's were in power. His decision was
most probably reliably based on public opinion surveys and like any politician
he wishes to appear to be backing winners and ideas that will succeed in the
If we can interpret anything from Mr. Harper's words, its that Mr. Harper's
intelligence sources are predicting a very significant improvement in US Cuba
relations beyond what we can expect and that could well mean that Raul Castro
and Fidel, are about to make some monumental surprising decisions that give
Obama what he needs to make that decision.
That raises the question as to Why Fidel would suddenly have such a change in
The answer to that is ego and pride, Fidel Castro like Harper, wants to appear
to be backing winning ideas and as Fidel Castro's days are rapidly coming to an
end, so is Castro's window of opportunity to see history record him as the
winner of the Five Decade cold war with the United States.
The ball is now in Fidel Casto's court and the psychological pressure on him may
well kill him before he makes his famous last decision.