By speaking as a friend, Canada's prime minister says he is trying to do what Cuba's foes cannot: win freedom for political prisoners.
Jean Chretien spent almost six hours in meetings with President Fidel Castro, the last of which ended Tuesday, and told reporters he urged Castro to free at least four political prisoners and make changes in Cuba's communist system."I was telling him all the time there are big changes (in the world), and we all have to adapt to this new reality," Chretien said after the last meeting. He was scheduled to depart later Tuesday.
The Canadian leader said Castro questioned him about his suggestions.
"He defended his legal system, but he took the list and said he would consider it," Chretien told a news conference after Monday's meetings. "I didn't think he was very happy."
But Chretien avoided sandwiching a meeting with dissidents between the talks with Castro. Aides said he turned down a request by dissident Elizardo Sanchez for a meeting, sending top aides instead.
Chretien said he urged changes in Cuba so the "family" of nations across the Americas "can be united."
"To end the (36-year-old U.S.) embargo, there has to be movement on both sides," Chretien said he told Castro.
Chretien said he saw little sign of quick change, however.
Castro, he said, "is a very communist person. He believes in the system he has. I don't expect there will be a general election with any opposition this week."
But the Canadian leader called Canada a friend of Cuba - a fact aides said made it possible for him to raise tough issues with Castro.
Canada provides nearly one-sixth of Cuba's 1.2 million tourists and much of the foreign investment in Cuba's mining and petroleum industries, in a nation where hard currency is hard to come by.