The New Cuba Problem

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OTTAWA: A dispute between Canada and the U.S. over the Helms-Burton law -- the measure intended to punish foreign firms for doing business with Cuba -- is coming to a head. By late Wednesday, a coalition of 20 church, nonprofit and labor groups had called on Canadians to boycott Florida, a $1.3 billion Canadian tourist destination. Many Canadian companies, which could lose other U.S. revenue if they pressed ahead with Cuban business deals, vow to do so regardless. Although the Toronto government has not endorsed the boycott, it says that it should be taken seriously because it has significant popular support. But that resolve may not last: "The boycott will probably not have much of an impact once the harsh Canadian winter rolls around," says TIME's Gavin Scott. "Their enthusiasm to go to Florida will be undiminished." The Helms-Burton law allows American citizens and corporations to sue foreign companies that use confiscated American assets in Cuba. The U.S. is also banning executives, their families and shareholders of those companies from the country. The State Department has already notified nine top officers of Sherrit, a Toronto-based company, that they and their families will be denied entry into the U.S. "The Canadian government will take the dispute to the NAFTA dispute resolution commission as early as next week," says Scott. "Their argument: that the extra-territorial application of an American law infringes on Canadian sovereignty." Although the subject was discussed at the recent G-7 summit in Lyons, where other member nations condemned the U.S. legislation, there has been no concerted effort to challenge the law. Scott notes that Canada's Minister of Foreign Trade, Arthur Eggleton, has said he hopes wiser heads will prevail when the dust settles after the U.S. presidential election. -- Lamia Abu-Haidar