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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Canada plays host to U.S.-Cuba talks

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This column courtesy of runs here with complete permission.

“Learning about Cuba, having some food.” — Jeff Spicoli

The United States and Cuba wanted to get together and talk about normalizing relations. But the leaders of the countries were concerned about meeting in each other’s country. So they needed a secret tree clubhouse where they could comfortably meet without people finding out.

So they picked Canada.

Canada hosted about seven secret meetings from June 2013 and November 2014 in Ottawa (6) and Toronto (1).

“Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper played down Canada’s contribution, pointing out in an interview that Canada did not mediate or direct the talks. Given the buildup to Canada’s federal election in 2015, rare these days to hear the prime minister be so humble.

We learned about the secret meetings when U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his country would normalize relations with Cuba.

“I think it’s very clear that the Liberal Party and Canadians in general have had very positive friendships with both the United States and with Cuba, and to see the welcome steps of building ties between the two countries appear today is a very good piece of news,” Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau said in Vancouver. “I look forward to Canada playing a positive role in bringing together those two countries.”

“Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy. We should see more of this constructive approach in Canadian foreign policy,” NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said.

Canada was one of only 2 countries from the hemisphere not to break diplomatic relations with Cuba. The trade and travel advantage that Canada had in the hemisphere is about to disappear.

Travel restrictions will be lifted to travel to Cuba from the United States.

Licensed American travelers to Cuba can bring back up to $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol under $100. As for importing Cuban cigars, we still need to learn more information. Short term, Canada will be a great source for Cuban cigars. Why fly to Havana when you pick up some cigars in Toronto.

Again, we’ll have more when those rules are more clear about Cuban cigars. The economic embargo is under the lid of Congress. Given that the GOP controls both houses, the embargo will likely stay until at least 2017.

Canada has had a traditional role of peacemaker, a country that could be trusted to solve world problems in a low-key manner. This is a great example of where Canada has been, which is why you saw the NDP and Liberals as pleased if not more than Stephen Harper.

This act of diplomacy should be a talking point in next year’s debates leading up to the 2015 federal election. This should be an example of where Canada should be on the world stage.

Glad to see Canada play a role in a significant diplomatic mission in the Western Hemisphere. The impact on Canada, United States, and Cuba will be a delicate path that we will see unwind in the months to come.


2014 Three Amigos preview

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Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog,

Mitt Romney’s European misadventures: presidency means diplomacy

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The Republican Party has presumably nominated someone who has lived in Europe, whose money has traveled to the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and Bermuda. Contrast that to George W. Bush, whose Mexico trips satisfied what little curiosity he possesses.

Mitt Romney knows the world as well as any Republican contender in recent memory. So why was his recent world adventure filled with so many gaffes? Just another of Romney’s ongoing “I used to be that guy, now I’m this kind of guy” transformation.

When Sen. Barack Obama went to Europe in 2008, he was cheered by crowds as he went through Europe. The reaction in Germany is still imprinted on our minds 4 years later. Not that Obama didn’t have his own minor gaffes along the way. Obama did refer to “president” instead of “prime minister” when referring to Canada. The two differences were that Obama made his mistakes early and didn’t do any damage on foreign soil.

The oddity of politics is that you can criticize another country on your soil a lot easier than on their soil. Mitt Romney literally should have known better, but didn’t.

What Romney said about the Olympics preparation wasn’t that bad. Doing so with your own Olympic background on British soil made a really bad impression. And the tone felt like he was trying to score political points at home. Candidates can score points at home by behaving in a good diplomatic fashion.

Romney’s classic gaffe was mentioning a meeting with MI-6, an agency the British don’t mention in conversation.

How bad were things for Mitt Romney? David Cameron, a fellow conservative and Britain’s prime minister, made fun of Romney.

When you aren’t president and you want to be president, the idea is to act presidential when you have the chance. The Romney of 10-15 years ago wouldn’t have made these mistakes. Aren’t we supposed to get wiser as we get older?

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said. Of course, the Israeli occupation is a very good reason for the discrepancy. Too bad Romney doesn’t seem to know this.

The incidents in England were more socially awkward. Romney’s impression of the Palestinian economy was so off the mark that embarrassing isn’t strong enough of a word, and his observations on the Israeli health care system would have been wonderful and spot-on if he supported Obamacare.

Romney wasn’t personally involved where Rick Gorka, his traveling press secretary, told reporters to “kiss my ass” and “shove it” in Warsaw. Obviously, the incident reflects poorly on Romney; perhaps a fitting end to the trip.

Gorka’s tirade came after a reporter had protested over the press not being allowed to ask questions of Romney. Traveling reporters had only been allowed to ask three questions, all on the first day of the trip.

Romney’s attack on Russia was more about feeding the base in the States than in diplomacy.

As badly as Romney did on his overseas trip, Romney knows this stuff much better than Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, et al. Imagine what Santorum would have said about anything European, much less the Middle East.

Romney ran for president in 2008 and seemed more presidential four years ago than he does now. Diplomacy is part of being president. If Romney doesn’t understand that now after running for president for 5 years, then he’ll never learn.

Toronto gun deaths are up, but still safer than U.S.

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This column was going to be written, even before the horribly tragic Aurora movie theater shooting. Excessive heat increases gun violence, and thanks to a mild winter and very hot summer, gun deaths are on the rise, even in Canada’s largest city.

As bad as things are by Toronto standards, they don’t even compare to a typical day in the United States, even if you don’t count mass shootings such as the Aurora shooting.

The difference, though, is that shootings are still a big deal for Canadians, where the victims of mass shootings in the United States disappear from the public eye. Ask yourself if you remember Christina Taylor Green without Googling her name.

For more of a look into gun violence on both sides of the border, check out our perspective from our sister blog,

U.S. protesters can learn lessons from Quebec student protesters

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I covered the NATO protests in Chicago with an eye to what was going on in Montréal. The MSM has its way of delegitimizing protesters, whether they be against the Iraq War or NATO or the Afghanistan War or any other action that has fallen into the status quo. The local coverage in Chicago was particular nauseating since journalists went out of their way to critique their signs and how they didn’t conform to the same message.

The fact that the signs were against action taken by NATO, current and future, and that taxpayer money going to war could be better spent on domestic problems — all that escaped the mindset on the TV screen.

Such trivial nonsense wasn’t found in the ongoing coverage of the student protesters in Montréal. The coverage, in English, at least was mostly shallow and worried more about how the protesters upset tourists and summer highlights, including the Canadian Grand Prix, the Montréal Comedy Festival, and the Montréal Jazz Festival.

As for the French coverage, from what I have been told, the slant depended on which source you read. But they didn’t belittle the protesters for “inconsistencies.”

Can American protesters learn lessons from the student protesters in Montréal? Absolutely. Even if American protesters follow every lesson, will the MSM give their cries the same legitimacy as it treated the teabaggers? No. But the coverage of U.S. protesters will improve because much of the ammunition against them will be detonated.

Uniformity of message: The student protesters were chanting the same thing. The rhythm of wooden spoons hitting pots snd pans was catchy and I heard it long after they weren’t around. Not that the teabaggers had consistency, but the MSM usually loves consistency in a message.

Age diversification: When the protesters were mostly students, the cries were that they were young, or spoiled, or didn’t understand the world. When the Quebec government passed Bill 78, making it more difficult for students (or anyone) to protest, people outside the student realm started marching along with the students. Having people of different ages march together shouldn’t give a protest more legitimacy, but the media coverage did soften.

Keep the protest going: NATO had a limited shelf life of 4 days, counting the G8 summit that was supposed to be in Chicago. When you have a limited amount of time, you have to cram in more than you should. And Chicago pressured businesses to keep their employees out of the Loop on Friday and Monday. The student protesters in Montréal have been going longer than 100 days with a consistent message.

Incorporate symbolism in your protest gestures: I heard the terms “le casserole” and the banging of the pots and pans, but didn’t understand the symbolism. Fortunately, I had bilingual people explain this to me during my stay in Montréal, so hopefully this won’t get lost in translation.

Loi is French for law; l’oie is French for goose. The pots and pans are to cook the special goose — the special law. Le casserole is French for saucepan, though that might have been obvious.

Give people a chance to support you without protesting: Too often, we hear the MSM cries implying that only those people out in a protest care about the issue. In Montréal, people wore the carre rouge — red square — to support the protesters. Often, those who were protesting at night wore them during the day. But the streets were filled with people wearing the carre rouge who weren’t visibly protesting.

I saw a tall guy with a Army buzzcut in a 3-piece suit riding one of the rented bikes you see throughout Montréal through a street in the Little Italy neighborhood, and he was wearing a red square of support. I couldn’t react fast enough to take a picture nor to ask him about it.

I was told some people wore green squares (against the protesters) and white squares (neutral in the debate). For what it was worth, I didn’t see a green square or a white square in my 6 days in Quebec’s largest city. But when you can get people against you and for you to wear a symbol of support, you have passion in a movement that has been missing on the American side of the border.

The good news for the students is that government was willing to listen and make change. Early on, the Jean Charest government (province of Quebec) changed its stance to spread out the tuition increase from 5 years to 7 years. The students have had enough power to get more done, but negotiations haven’t gone well. The problem, and this isn’t the students’ fault, is that the fight is about the tuition hikes AND Bill 78. The special law is only temporary, and hasn’t been fully implemented (in part because the police weren’t sure how to do so, and it became virtually impossible to enforce).

At some point to any protest, both sides need a conclusion they can live with. Bill 78 could easily die if the students stop protesting, but the students won’t stop protesting until Bill 78 is removed. As for the tuition hikes, the hikes might go through with a lot more concessions from the Charest government. When protests go on for too long, public support can easily slip. The parties involved don’t always know when is the best time. In this case, thanks to the students’ consistency and passion, they have more power than those who have protested on the American side of the border. The question is how will the students use that power to get concessions. That is a lesson we are still learning.

Canada’s Michael Ignatieff on sovereignty and what government must do

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Sovereignty is not something to dissect in the sound bites that make up our presidential campaigns. But sovereignty is a great 21st century topic for a lecture, and you couldn’t ask for a better person to talk about sovereignty in 2012 than Michael Ignatieff.

Hearing Ignatieff speak for 5-10 minutes, he demonstrates why is a professor. But Ignatieff also was a politician, head of the Liberal Party in Canada and candidate for prime minister in 2011. Ignatieff lost his seat in the election, and retired from politics.

His political/academic perspective, especially on the heels of the G8/NATO summits here in the United States, and Igantieff’s background in Canada, England, and the United States made him well-suited for the talk.

For more on the lecture and conversation, check out this column from our sister blog,

G8/NATO preview: Hiding at Camp David before coming to Chicago

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The G8/NATO summit was supposed to be all inclusive in Barack Obama’s hometown … in an election year. Well, we can’t seem to handle that so the awkwardness of breaking the summit into two locations appeared to be the “better” of the two options.

Protesters have a hard time getting their message out to the people who need to hear how they feel. In Chicago, as we’ve seen in Toronto and Pittsburgh, the goal is to keep the protesters and their messages as far away from people in power as humanly possible.

Of course, the violence estimates are high. Perhaps if people knew that those in power were listening to them, the reaction wouldn’t be as extreme. Some bad eggs will always come around to destroy things, but that can be true just about anywhere.

How much of a perspective we’ll get at Democracy Soup depends on how close I can get to the action. Even in the hometown of the NATO summit, getting close to the story may not be that easy. We’ll report back on what we see.

As for a look at what’s coming, and some Canadian perspective, check out this update from our sister blog,