Engagement in Havana

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HAVANA: Canada and Cuba are close trading partners. Now they want to get closer on human rights issues, according to a joint statement agreed upon during the visit of Canada's foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy to the communist island. "We're working with the government of Cuba to develop some joint programs or approaches dealing with human rights issues. We have now come to an agreement on some directions we can go in together," Axworthy said after a three hour tete-a-tete with Fidel Castro. The trip has raised concerns in Washington, which shuns any contact with Havana and criticized Canada for rewarding the dictator. Yet Canada has long had a special relationship with Cuba. It is the biggest foreign investor on the island, trading to the tune of $500 million last year. Axworthy has not minced words in criticizing the Helms-Burton act, which threatens to retaliate against foreign companies doing business in Cuba. Prime Minister Jean Chretien seconded his foreign minister, maintaining that Washington's policy of isolation gives Castro an excuse to stay in power instead of moving toward change.