Canadian PM Trudeau invited to Cuba

13769600-0d19-481c-a5af-17539501397d_JDX-NO-RATIO_WEBHAVANA, march 31th (AFP) – Cuba has invited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit the communist-run island, Havana’s ambassador to Ottawa said Wednesday.

“He is welcome to Cuba any time he wishes to come when his schedule allows him, and if President Raul Castro is invited to come to Canada, I’m sure he will take this opportunity,” Ambassador Julio Garmendia Pena told a press conference in Montreal.

The invitation comes one week after US President Barack Obama wrapped up a historic trip to Cuba, where he met with Raul Castro during a trip aimed at cementing the thaw announced by the two leaders in December 2014.

“We haven’t agreed any dates in the agendas, we have just opened the possibility of receiving a high-level delegation from Canada headed by the prime minister,” Garmendia Pena said.

The Cuban ambassador praised what he called historic ties between Cuba and Canada, one of the few countries in the Americas that has never severed diplomatic ties with the communist island.

Even before the US-Cuba thaw was announced, officials from Canada and Cuba held several rounds of “secret talks” in Ottawa, he said.

Pena added that Canadian businesses had nothing to fear from the ongoing rapprochement with the United States, which he framed as golden opportunity for the country given that the US embargo had discouraged many Canadian companies from doing business with Cuba, for fear of US sanctions.

“The blockade is on its way out and there is a window where Canadian companies can come to explore if they are ready to invest,” said the ambassador, who was invited to speak by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM).

He also expressed exasperation at what he called weak Canadian investment in the Cuban tourism sector, which he said “doesn’t reach $100 million.”

That number is paradoxical, he said, given that Canadians accounted for 1.3 million of the three million foreign tourists who visited the island in 2015.

Jean Chretien is the last Canadian prime minister to visit Havana, in 1998.