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Trent History Professor Invited to Speak at University of Havana
January 1, 2007

Associate Professor Robert Wright of Trent University’s History department was invited by the Canadian Embassy in Cuba to give the keynote address during the University of Havana’s National Canadian Studies conference from January 17-20, 2007.

Professor Wright presented his scholarship examining the close relationship between former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro that lasted for more than thirty years. A specialist in Canadian-Cuban relations, Prof. Wright began investigating the nature of their enduring friendship following Castro’s rare appearance outside of Cuba to serve as an honorary pall-bearer during Mr. Trudeau’s funeral in 2000.

During his address, Prof. Wright discussed the political context leading up to Mr. Trudeau’s historic state visit to Havana in January 1976. "It’s a very interesting story," explained Prof. Wright. "I wanted to clarify the misconception that Trudeau went to Cuba as a gesture of anti-Americanism. In fact, he went to protect Canada’s economic interests," he said. Mr. Trudeau’s state visit was widely denounced at the time, as he became the first leader of a NATO country to visit Cuba since the American economic embargo of the 1960s.

According to Prof. Wright, Mr. Trudeau’s visit was more directly tied to the consequences of the FLQ crisis. In December 1970, Mr. Trudeau had to accede to the kidnappers’ demands for asylum in either Argentina or Cuba. Mr. Trudeau contacted Fidel Castro personally to request his help with this situation, and Mr. Castro agreed to accept the terrorists into Cuba. This political favour, combined with the close personal affection shared by the Trudeau and Castro families, led to very warm relations between Canada and Cuba. The close ties between Cuba and Canada culminated in Mr. Trudeau’s state visit to Cuba in 1976.

Canadian investment in Cuba grew during this period, and continues strong to this day with more than 500,000 Canadian tourists visiting the island on an annual basis, and the considerable mining interests of Canadian-owned Sherritt International, the largest foreign company in Cuba.

Prof. Wright believes that Canadian-Cuban relations will remain strong despite Fidel Castro’s failing health. "The transition of power to Castro’s brother Raoul is complete. Fidel hand-picked all the government ministers before transferring his authority, and Raoul controls the military. The Cuban political environment is completely stable."

Prof. Wright, who is also a Trent alumnus, has just completed a book detailing the unusual connection between these two fascinating political figures entitled Three Nights in Havana. This book will be released as part of a special celebration by the Trent University History Department on Friday, February 2, 2007.

For further information about this book celebration event, please contact Kim Fielding at 748-1011, ext. 5530