Today, I’m heading to Havana, Cuba with a crew of 15 or so Canadian editorial cartoonists and illustrators for the next week and a bit. We’ll be accompanied by a few cartoon experts and some family and friends. As with any cartoonist convention there’ll be much laughter, music, and booze intake. We’re not destined for a Canadian-operated compound in Veradero full of other alcohol fuelled Mississaugaites hovering over all you can eat buffets, or rotund folks from Trois-Rivières in their poor fitting Speedos. No, we are headed for the Cuban capital to hang out with actual Cubans. Cuban cartoonists! We’ll talk shop, and let each other know a little bit our techniques and cultures. This is the first time the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists has ever coordinated a convention beyond the borders of Canada. While we’ve gone together in contingents of 10 or so to gatherings of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in the USA, nothing has been embarked upon like this one.
Not everyone is impressed with our choice to go to a country that according to Amnesty International has one of the worst records regarding freedom of expression. It is a ranking that our association is not impressed with either, and we are sure to see how it impacts the very artists we will convene with.
Like any country Canadians have the good fortune to be a guest in, we plan to visit Cuba with very open minds and to use the opportunity to learn and have fun doing so. If all goes to plan, that will happen, and our Cuban colleagues will experience the very same thing from us.
The first and only time I’ve ever been to Cuba was half a lifetime ago for me, 22 years ago. I was just out of University and a pretty staunch defender of the capitalist system. I kept a journal of that trip and when I recently read what I wrote it was interesting to see how the entry could have been written anytime including now. Trying to put my feet into the shoes of someone writing in 1992 and all the events that were taking place and what has happened ever since it’s fascinating to see how Cuba has endured.
Canada and Cuba are fortunate enough to have enjoyed very good relations going back for decades. It’s a relationship that no doubt irks our American friends and while attempts have been made to convince Canada to side with U.S. embargoes and sanctions, our sovereignty and right to set our own foreign policy has been mostly respected by Uncle Sam.
No longer is the tension between the U.S. and Cuba a consequence of cold war jousting by the American superpower and a Soviet Union. Even with the renewed semblance of a cool war between the economy weary USA and Putin’s Russia the old money pipeline feeding Cuba is long gone. Consequently, Canada sends one million tourists to Cuba each year, boosting the revenues of the beleaguered island country to levels that allow it to continue on its stubborn, dusty, Marxist path.
If ideology continues to be one of the primary reasons the US remains staunchly opposed to the regime in Havana it’s pretty easy to see the hypocrisy of it all when full diplomatic relations go on with the mother of all “Communist” countries, that being China. Beijing finances the U.S. Treasury, and the U.S. keeps the Chinese factories chugging along at full speed, stocking the shelves of Targets and Wal-Marts and keeping its executives comfortably topping the 1% in worldwide wealth. A splendid menage of capitalism and socialism!
The biggest thing that seems to keep the embargo going is the pressure from a small group of Cuban exiles based in Miami waiting to pounce when the right time comes and to claim their great grand-parents’ properties. It’s all rather unseemly, and a reminder of the sort of entitlement and greed that spurred the very revolution that brought that system to an end. Still, the old and hereditary casino barons and rum runners waiting to return are small potatoes compared with the captains of box stores that keep US-China relations. Why the U.S. keeps giving in to the anti-Castro lobby is beyond me so many decades after the revolution.
In my final observation summing up my 1992 trip, I made a bit of a prophecy when I wrote, “How many Canadians know that we are Cuba’s biggest trading partner now? Not many because that image of tyranny and abuse comes to one’s mind when hearing about Cuba – What would Canadians think if our trade arrangement becomes more known? More knowledge, and more Canadians going to Cuba will sway Canadians. You know, wouldn’t it be funny if Cuba were to become a Canadian province? You could say it is right now, and it is one of Canada’s best kept secrets.”
With more than a million Canadians visiting Cuba, in 2014, it’s no longer a secret.