Canadian ‘Rights Group’ Demands Sanctions on Cuba, Calls for Regime Change

Aidan Jonah
Canadian Conservative senator Leo Housakos reads out a speech on March 24, 2022, written by Democratic Spaces’ leader, Michael Lima. Source: Michael Lima’s YouTube channel.

A Cuban-Canadian ‘rights group’ that wants Canada to cut diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, has teamed up with the MacDonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) to demand that Canada implements sanctions on Cuban officials.

This latest move against Cuba was revealed by a November 14, 2022, Globe and Mail article. The move is led by Democratic Spaces’ leader Michael Lima and Cuba Decide, with help from two MacDonald-Laurier Institute senior fellows and lawyers (David Matas and Sarah Teich). They’ve jointly filed a request for Global Affairs Canada to implement Magnitsky sanctions against twelve Cuban officials and entities. In this G&M article, Mr. Lima claimed that Cuba represses “peaceful protesters.”

These July 11, 2021, protests began with legitimate concerns driven by the US government’s brutal 60-year blockade against Cuba causing among other problems power outages,  coupled with the pandemic, but were orchestrated by the US into violent anti-government actions which called for regime change, and saw looting along with attacks on Cuban state health facilities. A week after, 100 000 Cubans in Havana demonstrated in favour of the Cuban government, the Revolution more broadly, and against the counter-revolution attempt that was the July 11 protests.

TCF Contributing Editor Arnold August’s breakthrough article on the Archipiélago Facebook Group, showed that they proudly highlighted the violence that anti-government protestors did during the July 11 protests and pledged to continue supporting this initiative, while planning another demonstration on November 15, 2021. Their own statements show that the demonstrators were indeed violent, while the Cuban authorities used restraint.

The day after the G&M article, on November 15, 2022, the MLI hosted an event that called for the application of Magnitsky sanctions on Cuban officials. MLI senior fellow Marcus Kolga played a key role during 2016 and 2017, in getting Magnitsky sanctions legislated into Canadian law, referred to as the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law). Based on a fabricated story, it provides “for the taking of restrictive measures in respect of foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The MLI event included Lima as a speaker and featured Cuban-America Rosa Maria Payá, the principal collaborator of the US agitating for regime change against Cuba, who is proud to her links to former US President Trump.

The MLI takes funding from both the Latvian government to demonize Russia (since 2017), and from the Taiwan province government (since 2018) to demonize China. The MLI isn’t new to TCF readers, but what is the deal with Democratic Spaces?

What is Democratic Spaces, and what do they want?

Democratic Spaces is a rabidly pro-US group founded by Michael Lima that seeks to convert Cuba once again into a colony of the US under the cover of fighting “authoritarianism”. They celebrate Canada Day, and demonize Cuba as well as Venezuela, Nicaragua, China and others. Democratic Spaces’ origin date is unclear, the earliest WebArchive of their site can be found in November 2020.

In 2021, Democratic Spaces led the campaign for signatures for petitions E-3274 and E-3573, addressed to Canada’s parliament.

The former, released on March 18, 2021, called on Canada to stand with the US-government funded San Isidro Movement (further details: 1,2,3). It also asks Canada to invite Cuban ‘human rights activists (ie. regime change activists)’ to speak at the Canadian embassy in Cuba about the “repression” they have faced, among other demands.

The latter, released on October 19, 2021, called for the Canadian government to release regime change activists, sanction Cuban officials, engage in Western style “democratic” elections, and to cut diplomatic relations with the Cuban government and shift diplomatic relations to a variety of “pro-democracy” organizations instead. This came a week after the Cuban government refused a permit to planned violent regime-change protests promoted by the Archipiélago Facebook Group. These protests were not supported by the vast majority of  Cubans who came out en masse to showcase the strength of sentiment in favour of the Cuban government. The November 15 protest fizzled out not by any repression, but by the force of the people.

In November 2021, Democratic Spaces became a “promoter and advocate” of the “Transatlantic Parliamentary Forum” which seeks regime change in Cuba, which Canadian Senator Leo Housakos joined that same month.

In January 2022, Lima attended an event co-hosted by CADAL (Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America), which TCF Contributing Editor Arnold August explained “is part of a wide network of non-governmental organizations that the United States uses to channel financing for its political operators through NED and USAID.” That event, which European Parliament members participated in, was against the Cuban internationalist medical brigades, denouncing alleged slavery in the treatment of Cuban health professionals.

Democratic Spaces’ Director, Michael Lima, wrote a speech delivered by Senator Housakos on March 24, 2022, where he demanded Canada denounce supposed “systematic human rights violations” and shift diplomatic recognition to anti-Cuban government regime-change groups under the guise of “pro-democracy protestors”.

In May 2022, Lima participated in the “Transatlantic Parliamentary Coalition for a Free Cuba” event held in the US Congress. It was of course also attended by Paya.

Over the course of 2022, Lima and Democratic Spaces built relations with the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, which came to the public eye through two articles (1,2) the MLI re-published (written by Lima and MLI senior fellow Teich) from The Hub that demonized Cuba, between July 11 and July 13. Another article from Lima and Teich was published by The Hub on July 18. Arnold August took apart narratives pushed in these articles that demonized Cuba, in an article for The Canada Files.

Lima is friendly with both the Council for Democratic Transition in Cuba and Cuban-Canadians for a Democratic Cuba.

Right-wing actors want Canada to break diplomatic relations with the Cuban government

In February 2021, Canadian government policy on Cuba began to change, after a readout of a Canadian government meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had Canada stating that it was “very concerned about the issue of human rights in Cuba,” and said nothing about the brutal US blockade against Cuba, giving the US an important image boost in maintaining its blockade against Cuba.

A video presentation by Arnold August, released on September 12, 2021, would detail further how the Canadian government’s rhetoric has changed on Cuba.

On July 12, 2021, a day after the July 11 protests began, the Canadian foreign affairs ministry blamed both sides for the looting and rioting of violent anti-Cuban government protesters.

On July 15, 2021, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was “deeply concerned by the violent crackdown on protest by the Cuban regime”. This was a rhetorical change, shifting to calling Cuba a regime. This statement falsely called the Cuban anti-government demonstrators peaceful and said that Canada “stands with the people of Cuba who want democracy, freedom and respect.”

A Canadian government readout of a July 23, 2021, call with the Cuban foreign ministry yet again saw Canada issue its “deep concern over the violent crackdown on protests in Cuba, particularly the repressive measures against peaceful protesters, journalists, activists and arbitrary detention.” Canada echoed Biden-Trump talking points against Cuba.

Democratic Spaces (DS) and the MacDonald-Laurier Institute seek to push Canadian foreign policy on Cuba to be closely in line with US policy towards Cuba. Canadian government rhetoric towards Cuba has ramped up in hostility in the last two years, accompanied by a cowardly refusal, in service of US imperialism, to openly condemn the brutal US blockade against Cuba. DS and the MLI already have Canadian senators demanding that Canada shift diplomatic recognition from the Cuban government to regime-change groups, many of whom are backed by the US government. DS and the MLI may be starting relatively small, by demanding Magnitsky sanctions on Cuban government officials, but they certainly won’t stop there.

Prime Minister Trudeau and the peoples in Canada must not allow these two groups get their way, as it may drive Canada to destroy Canada’s diplomatic relations with Cuba.


Aidan Jonah is the Editor-in-Chief of The Canada Files, a socialist, anti-imperialist news outlet founded in 2019. Jonah has broken numerous stories, including how the Canadian Armed Forces trained neo-Nazi “journalist” Roman Protasevich while he was with the Azov Battalion, and how a CIA front group (the NED) funded the group (URAP) which drove the “Uyghur genocide” vote in parliament to pass this February. Jonah recently wrote a report for the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in September 2021.