Pushing for a change in UK policy

Spring 2009

Rob Miller, Cuba Solidarity Campaign Director wonders why the UK clings to failed Bush administration foreign policy while the rest of the world moves on

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign is stepping up the pressure on our own Government to join with all those around the world who are moving towards better relations with Cuba.

The ‘Wish You Were Here’ postcard campaign(see Winter 2008-9 CubaSí), a new Early Day Motion 1171, and direct contacts with UK Foreign Office officials are all being pursued to make sure that our message is clear - now is the time for the UK to engage fully with Cuba with no preconditions.

When Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, visited Cuba in February he became the first Irish Minister to travel to Cuba in an official capacity. In his comments he recognised that “Cuba is undergoing a major transformation, and its relations with the EU have entered a new phase”.

In March, both El Salvador and Costa Rica restored their diplomatic relations with the island, which had been severed for almost 50 years soon after the Revolution.

Today, every country in Latin America has formal relations with the Cuban government, and most have also made presidential or high level ministerial visits in recent years.

Even William Hague, the Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary, visited Cuba in March. He too joined the move to a fresh approach by publicly urging US President Barack Obama to lift the 47 year old blockade.

Ask your MP to sign EDM 1171

At the time of going to print, almost 100 Members of Parliament from across the political parties had signed Early Day Motion 1171 calling for a fresh approach in UK-Cuba relations, and more than 1000 ‘Wish you were here’ campaign cards had been forwarded to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

EDM 1171, tabled by the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cuba Dr Ian Gibson MP, notes the recent formal visits to Cuba by the Irish and Spanish Foreign Ministers and Presidents of Chile and Argentina as well as that by the Shadow Foreign Secretary. It welcomes the fact that the UK enjoys excellent relations with Cuba in the fields of sport, biotechnology and the arts.

Most importantly, and linking in to CSC’s ‘Wish you were here’ campaign, the motion calls on the UK Government to send a high level Ministerial delegation to Cuba, led by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to build on UK-Cuba relations and UK interests in the region.

The fact is that Cuba is welcoming governmental visits from across the globe. The Presidents of Argentina, Chile, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic have all visited in recent months. The European Union has improved its relations as evidenced by the recent visit to Havana of Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development and Human Assistance. The UK’s own Royal Ballet is will visit in July 2009 too. (see News pages)

US Congress delegation

In April, a high profile delegation of seven US Congress members travelled to Havana and held long meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and with former president Fidel Castro, in a clear sign that there is scope for improved US-Cuba ‘relations’.

One of the seven, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri called for removal of nearly 50-year-old travel and trade sanctions.

“We’ve been swimming in the Caribbean sea of delusion for 50 years,” Cleaver said from Washington. “We’ve diluted ourselves into believing if we isolated Cuba that the Castro regime would collapse and the US version of democracy would be established.....And it has turned out that we are the isolated country” because every other nation in the Western Hemisphere has diplomatic relations with Cuba, he said.

There are clear moves in the US that may see the dropping of the Bush era travel restrictions on Cuban Americans, and allow them to send money to relatives on the island. There is even a widely supported “Right to Travel to Cuba” bill that has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This bill, if passed, would lift all travel restrictions for all people in the United States.

Congressman Cleaver insisted that “this is the time” to pursue more open relations. “We have conservatives ... calling for change,” Cleaver said. “We have a president saying he’s looking at lifting travel restrictions for Cuban families. It’s just not going to be something for us to delay.”

Already in Cuba, thousands of American tourists are openly flouting the US travel restrictions confident that no action will be taken against them on their return to the US.

In April, President Barack Obama will attend the summit of Latin American heads of state where it is likely that he will come under pressure to further distance himself from the previous administration’s aggressive policy and look towards improving US relations with the island. Of course, allowing Cuban Americans to visit more frequently does not signal an end to the blockade, and purely returns the status quo to pre-Bush days, but it is still a positive sign in a change of policy and attitude towards Cuba.

UK delays better relations with Havana

Yet at the very same time that all this is happening, our own British Government seems intent on hanging on to the coat tails of the failed Bush policy of interference rather than look towards developing better relations.

The Government has chosen this time to state that “British ministers will not visit Cuba unless they are able to meet dissident opposition groups as well as Cuban government ministers”.

This statement published in the UK Government’s Report on Human Rights published in March 2009 can be interpreted as a clear and provocative block to better UK-Cuba relations.

If other European Ministers, William Hague and even US Congress people, are able to visit Cuba then it is absurd for our Government to invent reasons to oppose better engagement.

Cuba has survived 50 years of interference and aggression. Cuba has had to defend its Revolution against invasion, blockade and numerous acts of terrorism against its peoples over the years. Under these conditions Cuba has the clear right to set its own terms of engagement with countries that have previously joined this aggressive policy. We should all respect Cuba’s right to determine their own policy at this fast changing time.

At the end of the day it is for the Cuban people to decide their way forward and our Government should start positive engagement without preconditions immediately.

Please join with us today and call for a British Minister to visit Cuba this year.


EDM 1171 on Cuba

-Ask your MP to sign EDM 1171 on UK Relations with Cuba

-Email your MP today at www.writetothem.com

-Contact the CSC office for model letters, EDM postcards and further information on 020 8800 0155 or finance@cuba-soldiarity.org.uk

‘Wish you were here’ cards

- Sign the ‘Wish you were here’ action card today

- If you’ve already signed it, ask your friends, colleagues and family to sign

- Get your union and/or organisations you belong to distribute the card to members

‘Wish you were here’ and EDM 1171 action cards are available from the CSC office on 020 8800 0155 or by emailing finance@cuba-solidarity.org.uk



Gibson, Ian

That this House welcomes the fresh approach to international relations with Cuba including recent legislation in the US to lift family visiting restrictions on Cuban-Americans; notes the recent formal visits to Cuba by the Irish and Spanish Foreign Ministers and Presidents of Chile and Argentina; further notes the recent visit by the Shadow Foreign Secretary to Cuba; welcomes the fact that the UK enjoys excellent relations with Cuba in the fields of sport, biotechnology and the arts; and calls on the Government to send a high level Ministerial delegation to Cuba, led by the Foreign Secretary, to build on UK-Cuba relations and UK interests in the region.

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