EU recommends restoring dialogue with Cuba

Campaign News | Wednesday, 15 December 2004

But contact with so-called dissidents will increase

Brussels 14 Dec. European Union officials have recommended excluding dissidents from cocktail functions at EU embassies in Havana and resuming high-level visits to the island as a way to restore dialogue with the Cuban government.

However, the officials also recommended not inviting high-ranking Cuban government officials to the same cocktails until June, to increase pressure on Cuba to release all political prisoners and increase contacts with alleged dissidents in other ways.

The recommendations therefore weaken the tough stance that the 25-member European Union took on Cuba after its government jailed 75 so-called dissidents in 2003 and sentenced them to up to 28 years in prison.

But at the same time, it pays service to US demands that its financed cabal of alleged dissidents should be supported by the EU.

And a spokesman for the Dutch government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has denied there was any change in EU policy.

"What we're trying to do is find creative ways to break the deadlock. The pressure is maintained on Cuban authorities," the spokesman told The Miami Herald in a phone interview.

The recommendations drew sharp criticism from Elizardo Sanchez, on of the alleged human rights activists in Havana, who complained that the repression of the US-financed opposition that caused the European Union to take its tough stance has not diminished.

The recommendations by the European Union Council for Latin America, made up of officials who handle the member nations' relations with Latin America, will be considered for adoption in January, when EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet.

In response to Cuba's crackdown on dissidents last year, the European Union suspended bilateral high-level official visits and had its embassies in Havana invite dissidents to social functions. Cuba responded by breaking off all contacts with EU diplomats.

The European Parliament, on the initiative of MEPs from the former socialist bloc countries, who are again heavily encouraged and influenced by the US, has demanded that the European Union make no concessions toward easing relations with Cuba until all political prisoners are released.

But the new government in Spain with the support of France and, it seems, the UK disagree. A review of the EU measures came after Spain's new Socialist-led government recently restored formal contacts with Havana and began aggressively advocating for dialogue.

Fourteen of the 75 so-called dissidents were released on parole for health reasons in recent weeks, beginning just days after Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque met with Spain's ambassador to Cuba.

If the proposals are adopted in January, they will remain in effect until June, when another review process will take place. Also scheduled for review at that time is the European Union's "common position" on Cuba, a policy adopted in 1996 that made improved diplomatic ties conditional on political changes.

To see how the US press are reporting this story:

BRUSSELS 14 Dec: The European Union will review its sanctions against Cuba in January as it moves towards normalizing relations with Havana, while stepping up dialogue with Cuban dissidents, EU sources said.

Meeting in Brussels, the officials handling Cuba policy from all 25 EU member states urged a rapprochement with the Cuban government while "intensifying contacts with dissidents," a spokesman for the Dutch EU presidency said.

The EU imposed sanctions on Castro's government in June 2003 to protest the jailing of some 75 alleged dissidents last year for up to 28 years, as well as the execution of three men for terrosrism and endangering innocent lives when they hijacked a harbour ferry at knifepoint.

Fourteen of the so-called dissidents have been released over the past several months.

Since 1996, the European Union has had a common policy toward Cuba, conditioning better political ties on political changes.

But Spain, under its new Socialist government elected last March, has been pushing for dialogue with Havana and a "new type of relationship" with the island - with which it renewed "official contact" on November 25 - in the belief that sanctions have produced only stalemate.

French President Jacques Chirac last week said Spanish attempts to soften the EU line on relations with Havana had helped bring about the release of the political prisoners.

The EU officials also plan to modify policies on guest lists for events at European embassies in the Cuban capital, a subject of friction with the Cuban authorities, the Dutch EU presidency spokesman said.

The recommendations will be examined for possible approval by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on January 30, he added.

Since June 2003, European embassies have pointedly invited dissidents. In retaliation, no government officials to receptions marking the various EU countries' national days.

One recommendation is to refrain from inviting either government officials or dissidents to embassy parties until next June, a European source said.

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