EU agrees to lift sanctions

Campaign News | Monday, 16 June 2008

from Yahoo News


EU nations agreed Thursday to definitively lift their sanctions against Cuba, in the hope of encouraging democracy on the island, European diplomats said.

European Union foreign ministers took the decision in principle during dinner on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.

"There was an agreement to lift the sanctions against Cuba," a European diplomatic source said.

"They have agreed to have an annual review and in one year's time to assess the political dialogue with Cuba," she added.

The move is a largely symbolic gesture as the sanctions, which restrict high-level diplomatic contacts and offer some symbolic support for dissidents, have been in suspension since 2005.

Sources with the Spanish delegation confirmed the move. Spain restored diplomatic relations with Havana last year and championed the move to get the sanctions lifted.

However Washington said it was "disappointed" by the EU decision favouring Cuba, which it said remains an authoritarian regime despite recent reforms.

"We're disappointed in this decision. We think the Castros need to take a number of steps to improve the human rights conditions for ordinary Cubans before any sanctions are lifted," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

"Certainly, I would hope that ... any of our democratic friends and allies throughout the world would be cognizant of not taking actions that would appear to give additional legitimacy" to the Cuban regime, he said.

Many European officials have called for the lifting of the sanctions.

"We see encouraging signs in Cuba and I think that we should show the population in Cuba that we are ready to work with them," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

"We should not be insensitive to what is going on," she added, in reference to the first steps of Raul Castro since taking the reins from his ailing brother Fidel.

"The lifting of sanctions would give us a more effective way to deal with the human rights question," through better engagement, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

The measures were imposed in 2003 after Cuba jailed 75 dissidents and executed three young Cubans who had attempted to escape to the United States.

However they have had little effect as the authorities in Havana have only released 20 of the 75, mostly for medical reasons.

A Cuban dissident group asked the EU on Monday to press Havana for "real" reforms ahead of a review of its Cuba sanctions, dismissing changes introduced so far by President Raul Castro as cosmetic.

A small minority of EU member states, led by the Czech Republic, along with the Netherlands and Denmark, had been reluctant to definitively lift them, insisting that the EU should continue to press on the prisoners and wider human rights issues.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stressed the importance of the 12-month review while decrying the terrible treatment of prisoners.

"We will continue our contacts with the democratic opposition," he said.

"We have not given up pursuing the question of human rights".

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