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Cuba connection

Re Harper Embraces Warmer Relations With Cuba (April 13): It's significant that the amount of Canadian exports to Cuba last year were about the same as those of 1980 – although this represents a two-thirds decrease in the value of exports, given inflation rates over more than three decades.

Stephen Harper is clearly a reluctant convert to the Obama initiative on both Cuba and Latin America as a whole, although it is fascinating to see that he is now apparently using the same approach as the "constructive engagement" of the early Chrétien years.

If he were to depend less on ideology, and look in a balanced fashion at developments in Latin America over the past 15 years, he would be surprised to see how badly Canada is missing out.

John M. Kirk, Latin American studies, Dalhousie University


Not long after President Barack Obama announces his decision to normalize relations with Cuba, Stephen Harper's views suddenly change. It would've been more meaningful if the Prime Minister had had the courage to face Canadian reporters and citizens in a forum that would have allowed some probing of his new attitudes rather than, as has become the norm with our globetrotting PM, in a press conference far from Canada and awkward questions.

Jerry Storie, Winnipeg


Senate insights

Re Prime Residence? (letters, April 14): Even if the Senate and Stephen Harper do not appear to have definitions of the word "primary," dictionaries do: a) one that is first in time, order or sequence; b) one that is first or best in degree, quality, or importance; c) one that is fundamental, basic, or elemental.

It behooves Mike Duffy's lawyer and the Prime Minister to show how a cottage, rather than Mr. Duffy's Ottawa home, is his "primary" residence.

Doug Innes, Toronto


Esteemed, noble, praiseworthy, moral, principled, respectable, proper, right, and revered – all traits of the honorific 'Honourable' – somehow capture neither The Right Honourable Stephen Harper's bypassing the Constitution nor The Honourable Mike Duffy's profiting from soft rules.

If senators can't figure out simple housekeeping procedures, how sober can their second thoughts be on complex legislation?

So far, the defence has proved the undeniable: Acting legally is not to be confused with acting morally – at least when serving the public interest Ottawa-style.

Matthias Schlaepfer, Toronto


People with experience and depth live in every province and territory that make up our country: The elephant in the room is patronage appointments based on celebrity status.

To argue that one might have to leave Prince Edward Island or Saskatchewan to become worthy of a Senate appointment is reminiscent of the suggestion that a Canadian is nobody until he or she "makes it" in another country. Achievements within one's home boundary are as worthy as another's achievements outside them.

Finding qualified citizens capable of contributing meaningful thought in the Senate is not the problem: limiting the selection pool to compliant, brand-recognizable citizens is.

Giselle Déziel, Cornwall, PEI


Genocide's firsts

The Pope's claim that the First World War-era slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks was "the first genocide of the 20th century" is incorrect (Egoyan Lauds Pope's Recognition Of 'Ongoing Wound' – April 13).

The German slaughter of the Herero and Namaqua people in modern-day Namibia between 1904 and 1907 is missing in the Pope's statement. German forces systematically starved and murdered the Namibian people; they poisoned wells in the desert and used concentration camps that would later serve as models for the Holocaust.

The ignorance about this atrocity further contributes to the whitewashing of certain colonial histories: Aimé Césaire claimed that the peoples of Europe "tolerated nazism before it was inflicted on them … because, until then, it had only been applied to non-European peoples."

Deena Dinat, Vancouver


While I agree with Pope Francis that the world should remember the murder of roughly 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide, sadly the Pope is mistaken when he refers to this genocide as the 20th century's first. From 1885-1908, King Leopold II of Belgium's "Congo Free State" reduced the population of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo from roughly 20 to 10 million.

And, starting in 1904, the Germans exterminated several tens of thousands of Herero and Namaqua people in what is now Namibia.

Surely, the dubious distinction of being the 20th century's first genocide belongs to one of these examples of the horrors of Western colonialism.

Geoff Read, history; Huron University College


Their land, their call

Jeffrey Simpson suggests aboriginal titleholders face a stark choice: preserve their lands or allow commercial development (Which Road Will Aboriginal Groups Take? – April 11).

As an example of preservation, he cites the Tsilhqot'in's Nemiah Declaration, prohibiting development where the Supreme Court has acknowledged their title. So "forget any commercial activity in the Tsilhqot'in Nation territory," he writes. In fact, the declaration covers only the 5 per cent of their territory where land rights were judicially affirmed.

Resource development may still take place elsewhere, subject to the Crown's duty to consult the Tsilhqot'in and accommodate their interests. The court declared that aboriginal titleholders, like all landowners, can determine the best uses of their lands. First Nations can be expected to reach an appropriate balance between preservation and development.

Kent McNeil, Osgoode Hall Law School


Critters aren't us

I once sided with the mice in our Arts and Crafts house (In Toronto's War On 'Raccoon Nation,' I'm Siding With The Critters – April 11). I pictured them knitting in rocking chairs with little granny glasses, or sleeping in matchbox beds our girls made – until the last straw. Besides mouse droppings in every cupboard, they began stealing nuts from the kitchen and taking them upstairs to crack between the joists above our bed. That was it: I bought two dozen traps. Each morning, I found six to eight mice in them until one day, they were gone.

We're living happily ever after.

Thomas Bonic, Toronto


We thought we had the world's brightest animal in our backyard as he inevitably turned the lid of the composter and lined up the arrows. The solution was to drill a hole through the lid into the barrel and slide a heavy nail through both holes in toward the barrel.

It worked – but we felt a bit bad realizing a frustrated raccoon was out there trying to remember the combination.

Nancy Turkington, Sidney, B.C.


"Raccoon Nation" is at least one step up the evolutionary chain from "Ford Nation."

Gord Cameron, Brockville, Ont.