Chretien appeals for release of 4 Cuban dissidents
April 27, 1998
Chretien, left, and Castro watch a military parade in Havana Monday
Web posted at: 9:13 p.m. EDT (0113 GMT)
HAVANA (CNN) - Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien made a personal appeal Monday to Cuba President Fidel Castro for the release of four dissidents imprisoned since July 1997.
Chretien, on the first visit by a Canadian government leader
to Cuba since 1976, made the appeal during a 2 1/2 hour
meeting with Castro. The imprisoned dissidents also have
been championed by international human rights groups, the Vatican and European Union nations.
Marta Roque, one of the four prisoners arrested
after calling for multi-party elections, is reportedly very
ill and in need of medical treatment.
Chretien said Castro, who did not look pleased, defended
Cuba's legal system but took the list of dissidents saying he
would consider their release. Chretien said he doubted
Castro would be calling for free elections "next week."
Jose Cardenas of the Cuban American National Foundation
speaking on CNN's Insight called Chretien's efforts political
and said, "Fidel Castro still treats Cuban people, in this case Cuban dissidents, as barter for concession from foreign
Canadian businesses continue to make their mark in Cuba by
investing in communication, mining and tourism. Canadians
are the number one tourist group to visit the beautiful
stretch of beaches and modern hotels just hours from Havana.
Cuba's new international airport was built with a $38
million loan from Canada.
Political dissidents in a Cuban prison
In contrast to Washington's policy of isolating Havana,
Chretien says Canada is leading the way towards constructive
engagement with Havana as a method of promoting reform in the
last socialist country in the Western Hemisphere.
In a move to show the effectiveness of Canada's openness,
Cuba agreed to a $9 million payment to a Canadian insurance
company in compensation for assets confiscated after the
revolution. The deal is meant to send a message to
businesses and to Washington that negotiation rather than
confrontation is the profitable way to deal with Cuba.
Castro, in welcoming Chretien to Cuba Sunday, called the
U.S. embargo a "great crime" and suggested the U.S.
government should be taken to an international court of law
to stand trial on war crimes charges.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said that Fidel Castro is
"woefully" out of touch with history and suggested the Cuban
leader is suffering from "Castro-enteritis."
Despite Cuba's human rights record and Washington's policy of
isolation, Canadians continue to see Cuba as an island of
"I think many Canadians feel the way to engage Cuba is to trade with it," says Andrew Cohen of the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. "The human rights record of Cuba is not as bad a lot of other places with which the U.S. trades."