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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called on the United States to end its trade embargo against Cuba.
Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago — a gathering received with a big yawn in Canada — Harper suggested the decades-old embargo has had the unintended effect of propping up the Communist state.
“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,” Harper said.
“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,” he added.
Unlike the U.S., Canada has long maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama recently lifted some travel and telecommunications restrictions on Cuba in the first steps to thawing relations.
Harper has made free trade in the Americas his main message at the summit, one that hasn’t gone down well with all 34 leaders.
“There are some countries that want to keep fighting the Cold War and frankly wars that go a lot farther back than that,” Harper said at a brief press conference.
Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have been especially vocal in denouncing western-dominated global capitalism.
Harper is pushing an issue that caused heated debates at the summit four years ago, when leaders voted down the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.
At this weekend’s summit, Harper also pledged $4 billion to the Inter-American Development Bank, which lends money to developing countries in the Americas.
The summit has received little media attention in Canada. Most news organizations didn’t send reporters to cover the summit.