Latin America [updated 12 Aug 09]

“We are a country of the Americas,” Prime Minister Harper said. “Re-engagement in our hemisphere is a critical international priority for our Government. Canada is committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas and to doing so for the long term.”
In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement July 17, 2009

"[The new visa requirement for Mexican visitors] is not the fault of the government of Mexico – let me be very clear about this [....] This is a problem in Canadian refugee law which encourages bogus claims."
Speaking at the 'Three Amigos' summit in Guadalajara, August 12, 2009, quoted in the Globe and Mail

The only re-engagement Harper has paid attention to with Latin America is mercantile, and even then, he has done so clumsily. According to John Kirk, professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University:

On Mexico
"frustration with the abuse of the system for judging bona fide refugee claims from Mexico has led to a diplomatic blunder. Instead of modernizing the Immigration and Refugee Board and staffing it appropriately, the government reacted by slapping visa regulations on Mexico, and giving just two days notice to Mexicans planning to come to Canada.

"The widespread frustration (noted in Mexican media) is understandable, illustrating this major error in judgment. At a time when the tourism industry in Canada is slumping, the loss of 250,000 Mexican tourists—the fourth largest market for Canadian tourism, generating an estimated $265 million annually—is sad indeed. Since 1993, bilateral trade has grown 390 per cent, and Canadian investment there to a whopping 665 per cent. To treat Mexico with such insensitivity is just bad politics."

"Canada’s Auditor-General, the national ombud, pointed out that the Immigration and Refugee Board has suffered a significant decrease in the number of decisionmakers since the second quarter 2007; at one point, it operated with a 35 percent vacancy rate. Currently, the Toronto Star reports there is an 11 percent vacancy rate with 18 out of 164 positions unfilled. Jason Kenney, minister of Immigration and Citizenship, asked for the appointment process to be slowed down in April to properly assess all of the candidates." [from Blake Lambert's column in the Faster Times]

On Honduras
While hemispheric leaders (including Barack Obama) have called for the return of the constitutionally elected government, the weakest response has been from Canada. Others have demanded the immediate return of President Zelaya, refusing to recognize the illegal government. Not Canada."

Free Trade in the Americas
"In the case of Peru, where the FTA was enthusiastically supported by the PMO and DFAIT, little has been said about the killing in June by the Peruvian military of some 80 indigenous in rural Bagua province following protests against the displacement of native communities and the despoiling of the Amazon. Both Mr. Kent and Mr. Harper criticize the human rights situation in Cuba, but are strangely silent on massive abuses in countries where they seek commercial advantage. This is most clearly the case in Colombia, where Mr. Harper has pushed hard for another free trade agreement, while praising the Uribe government, which has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere."

On Cuba

"Showing an extraordinary selective indignation over the issue of human rights, in January Minister Kent chided the 600,000 Canadian vacationers to the island, noting that they were 'too willing to accept a candy-coated vision of what life in Cuba really is [...] it is still a dictatorship, any way you package it.' [...] the Harper government [is pursuing] a course towards Cuba that is reminiscent of a failed U.S. policy under Gorge W. Bush—just as the Obama administration is undertaking a dramatically new approach.

"Some of these are petty, such as delaying a visa to the Cuban Minister of Foreign Investment to attend an annual shareholders' meeting and mimicking a Bush proclamation on an anniversary important in Miami but reviled in Havana. Others are damaging to Canada's international standing. In terms of human rights, Canada was outvoted 46-1 on its Cuba policy at the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2007."

John Kirk's opinion piece in Embassy
Mexicans' travel to Canada, which exceeds travel from Australia, China, or India, and exceeds that of the remainder of Latin America and the Carribbean combined, reported by the Canadian Tourism Commision
Blake Lambert's editorial in the Faster Times
Colombia's human rights abuses from the US State Department
Harper's take on Honduras appears to concord with Fareed Zakaria's
Minister of State for the Americas, Peter Kent, had a diplomatic visit to Havana cancelled 10 days after declaring that the Harper government "will not pursue [...] constructive engagement" as past Liberal governments had, May 2009. Perhaps in retaliation, the Harper government did not issue a visa to the visiting Cuban Minister for Trade and Investment.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes his seat at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru, on Saturday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes his seat at the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima, Peru,
on November 22, 2008.
(Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

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