Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at the University of Havana
It’s an honour to be here with you all today at the University of Havana, a centre of learning for nearly 300 years. By comparison, the country I serve, Canada, is celebrating its 150th birthday next July. So I want to thank the university for making us feel young again.
I’d like to thank the university’s rector, Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez, for having me. And thanks as well to each of you for taking the time to be here today. I appreciate your interest. I’m very much looking forward to hearing your questions in a few minutes.
And of course I have to acknowledge a very special guest and a good friend who’s here with us today, President Raúl Castro. Thank you President Castro for the warm welcome you have extended to Sophie, to me, to our entire delegation and through us to the people of Canada. As many of you know, the historical connection between the Trudeau and Castro families reaches back many decades. Canada was, along with Mexico, the only country in the Western Hemisphere to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba following the revolution in the late 1950s.
It’s that strong and enduring connection that set the stage for my father’s visit during his time as prime minister. He, my mother, and my youngest brother Michel came to Havana for an official state visit in 1976. Now, I was four years-old at the time, which meant that I was still too young to really know what I was missing out on. But I was old enough to be jealous that my brother got to go to the sunshine and I didn’t. I’ve had the chance since then to visit Cuba on my own a few times and I learned first hand why my parents always spoke so highly of this place and mostly of its people.
And now as prime minister I understand to an even greater degree why it’s critical that Canada and Cuba maintain their close relationship. First and foremost, open and respectful relationships serve our people. Last… last year trade between Canada and Cuba was worth more than a billion dollars with much room to grow, the kind of cooperation that leads to a stronger economic growth, the kind of growth that back home in Canada builds a better future for everyone, not just the wealthiest citizens.
Strong relationships like the one between Canada and Cuba also remind us that friends speak openly and honestly with each other. I’m grateful that President Castro and I have developed the kind of relationship where we can discuss issues candidly and respectfully, whether we’re talking about governance, human rights, climate change, or gender equality. That’s how progress happens.
And finally, close relationships with other countries and cultures also help expose us to different perspectives and ways of life, making all of our lives richer.
This is especially important for Canadians because they consider diversity to be a source of great strength. They know that our country is strong not despite our differences, but because of them. In Canada, we believe that everyone deserves not only a real chance, but an equal chance to succeed. We believe that the opportunities available to each of us should not be determined by where you were born, the language you speak, the religion you practise or who you choose to love. That’s not what matters. What matters is your determination to work hard to … help build a better country than the one left by your parents. What matters is that you helped protect the things that unite us rather than dwell on what divides us. And from my own experience, no one understands that better than young people.
You see, I’m incredibly fortunate, not only to serve as prime minister to my country, but I am also the minister for youth. That means I have a chance to meet with young people all the time, whether it’s through events like this one, or through the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, a group of young Canadians in their teens and twenties who help me make sure that our government takes into account how policy will affect young people like them. And that focus on young people is really important to me personally. I don’t buy the argument that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. I’m much more interested in making sure that young people are empowered today, that you are leaders right now in your communities, in your country, in your world.
That’s true in Canada and it’s certainly true here in Cuba too. Young people already lead with the words you say, with the choices you make, with how you look to help and support your family and friends, with the hard work you do in schools and your communities to make your country a better, more welcoming, more successful place for everyone. That’s what leadership is all about. It’s about finding an opportunity to make a difference and going for it, and you don’t need to wear a suit and tie to do it.
I know that you’re all capable of doing big, important things right now. And if you do it wearing a t-shirt that says, noventa y nueve perciento diseno Cubano, even better. After all, this is the country where innovation and creativity is at the heart of everything you do. Every day, Cubans bring to life the spirit of resolver. I know that Cuba’s young people, young women and men just like you will help to shape not just a country, but a world that we can all be proud of.
One of the things that has always impressed me most during my visits to Cuba is how passionately you celebrate Cuban culture. Whether it’s your local artists or musicians or writers, the respect that you have for those who help tell the Cuban story is genuinely inspiring. I was reminded of that yesterday when I visited the Jose Marti Memorial. I was reminded of that last night when we enjoyed a fabulous performance by the young women of Camerata Romeu in the beautiful St. Francis Basilica. The pride that you have and what makes you uniquely you can serve as a lesson for the whole world, including for Canada.
At the same time, Canada understands that we are in a position to reach out to others, including our friends and partners in Cuba. That is why we are committed to pursuing our development work, which we know can make a real difference. Here in Cuba, that includes training programs for auditors. As the Cuban government continues to become more transparent and open, this type of program is useful for … to help increase accountability. And that includes support for farmers, for owners of small businesses, and for cooperatives in the four provinces in eastern Cuba, which in turn will be able to provide food that is healthier and safer to Cuban citizens.
But of all the links between our two countries, I think the most significant ones exist, not by way of commercial or development ties, but through one on one, person-to-person connections. We see this in the tremendous flow of tourists from Canada to Cuba. Canadians account for more than 40% of all visits to Cuba, making 1.3 million visits every year. We Canadians do love winter. But after a couple of months of minus 30 degrees Celsius, the great weather here in Cuba is always very attractive – mostly the warmth of the welcome that we get everywhere we go on this beautiful island.
Academic exchanges are another way that Canadians and Cubans can come together to learn and work side-by-side, whether it’s through the Canadian Studies Centre in universities and institutes across Cuba, including right here in the University of Havana, or through the network of academic exchanges between our post-secondary institutions, young people in Cuba and in Canada are forging relationships that will last a lifetime. We will all be better for those exchanges of culture, language, ideas and friendship.
Before I wrap up, I do want to say a few words about the work that our government is doing at home because it’ll sound familiar to many of you here in Cuba. We’re working hard to build a better future for all Canadians. So we will invest in building an economy that works for everyone. And in everything that we do, our government will stay true to Canadian values – values of inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit.
Now, I’ve been talking for a long time and I know that you have questions for me and I’m really looking forward to hearing them and answering them. But I hope that in these short words I’ve been able to give you a better sense of why the Canada-Cuba relationship is so important to us – so important to me.
It truly is a special friendship and I will do everything I can to continue to move it forward. But I hope you know that you all have an important stake, an important role in this friendship. Canada and Cuba will continue to accomplish much together, but we won’t be able to do it without the help of active and engaged young people like you. So let’s get to work.