HAVANA - Canada will maintain its strong relationship with Communist-led Cuba even if that puts it at odds with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
Canada has long been one of Cuba's closest western allies, maintaining ties after its 1959 revolution. Trudeau was speaking during his first official visit to the island, aiming to reinforce those long-standing trade and cultural ties.
The two-day trip was announced before Trump's Nov. 8 election victory. The president-elect has said he might reverse moves to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba and end decades of Cold War hostility.
"For me, election results in the United States won't change the strong relationship that is a friendship and a partnership between Canada and Cuba," Trudeau said, answering questions from students at Havana University after delivering a lecture there.
Seated in the front row of the lecture hall was Cuban President Raul Castro, who welcomed Trudeau to the island on Tuesday.
"Open and respectful relationships serve our people," Trudeau said, adding that Canada and Cuba had been trading partners for many years. "Last year, trade between our two countries was worth more than a billion dollars, with much room to grow."
Canadian companies have significant investments in mining, power, oil and gas, agribusiness and tourism in Cuba and Trump's election campaign threat to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement, under which the United States, Mexico and Canada trade, could open further trade possibilities with Cuba.
The United States is by far Canada's largest trade partner.
During the lecture, Trudeau reminisced about his family's long friendship with the Castros. His father visited the island as prime minister 40 years ago, becoming fast friends with then President Fidel Castro, Raul's elder brother.
With him were his wife and baby Michel, Justin's brother, who later died in an avalanche. One of the enduring images of the trip is Fidel holding Michel.
"I was four years old at the time... old enough to be jealous that my brother got to go and I didn't," Trudeau said.
"I've had the chance, since then, to visit Cuba on my own a few times, and I learned firsthand why my parents always spoke so highly of this place and its people," he added.
Canadians account for 40 percent of all visits to Cuba, he noted.
Trudeau is visiting Cuba and then Argentina on his way to Peru to participate in the Nov. 17-18 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.