The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) is deeply concerned by Ottawa's abrupt decision to shut down the section of its Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) Office in Havana through which visas were processed for Cuban citizens wishing to visit Canada and those seeking work or study permits. This measure follows the 50 percent reduction of the staff of Canada's embassy in Cuba which took place in January of this year. Cubans now have to make their applications through a visa application centre in a third country (the nearest being Mexico). Those having to submit their biometrics (photo and fingerprints), a requirement instituted in 2018 that will apply to most, will have to travel to a centre outside of Cuba to record this information.
These decisions have introduced unreasonable delays and significant financial obstacles for those Cubans seeking to travel to Canada, and will, amongst other things, cause significant damage to the business, cultural, scientific and sporting relations. Indeed, they have already had a drastic impact on academic exchanges between Canada and Cuba with some of the Cuban academics scheduled to attend the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies on May 10-12 not able to procure visas.
Canada and Cuba have enjoyed uninterrupted diplomatic relations since 1945. This development represents a serious departure from the relations which have existed all those years. Canada, along with Mexico, refused to break diplomatic relations with Cuba in the 1960s when the United States established the all-sided blockade it has maintained since then. At that time the U.S. demanded that all members of the Organization of American States (OAS) sever any connection with Cuba and, even though Canada was not a member of the OAS at that time, it still did not follow suit.
One wonders what crime Cuba has committed against Canada to make Canada take what can only amount to hostile actions against Cuba? Why now, at a time the U.S. has reversed the Obama government's attempts to bring an end to the failed policy that Washington has maintained against Cuba for 60 years?
In 2014, the world rejoiced to see the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and held out great hopes that relations between the two countries would be normalized. Canada helped by providing a venue for the talks which led to the improvement of those relations.
Everyone knows that sanctions target the people and deprive them of food, medicines and normalcy in the conduct of elemental commercial, financial and other relations. For 27 years, the vast majority of countries of the world have overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. all-sided economic war against Cuba. In 2018 alone, 189 countries voted with Cuba to end the blockade and only 2 voted against, of which one was the U.S. itself.
And now this! Is Canada so attracted to the Trump administration's anti-democratic counter-revolutionary attacks against Venezuela's right to self-determination as to take its revenge on Cuba? Or it is poised to admit that the United States dictates Canadian policy? Shame on Canada either way.
Who will benefit from the closing of the Havana visa service? Not Cubans trying to have normal relations with Canada and Canadians. What wrong has Cuba ever done to Canada?
The CNC calls on the Canadian government to reinstate the discontinued services at the IRCC Office in Havana, so that visa processing may proceed in a reasonable manner. If the abrupt shutdown is simply the result of the lack of necessary staff, as the Ministry of Global Affairs asserts, then Ottawa should issue a clear statement that visa and other related operations will resume once staffing issues are resolved.
Canadians, thousands upon thousands of whom visit Cuba for many reasons including tourism, business, academic, political and cultural exchanges of all kinds, want Ottawa to pursue a foreign policy based on mutual respect and equality. The CNC is confident that Canadians will reject any course of action taken by Ottawa which undermines the long-standing diplomatic relations based on norms recognized by the international rule of law and the ties of friendship and solidarity that exist between the peoples of our two countries.
Spokesperson for Canada Network on Cuba, Issac Saney
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