Cuba renews formal ties with all of the EU
Campaign News | Tuesday, 11 January 2005
Victory for Cuban diplomacy
HAVANA January 11 - Cuba said on Monday that it was resuming formal ties with all of Europe, ending a deep freeze in relations.
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told journalists that official contacts had resumed with the Havana-based ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and the Netherlands, as well as with the European Union mission.
``Cuba has re-established official contacts now with all of the EU countries," Perez Roque said. Although diplomatic ties with the European countries were never severed, high-level contacts between Cuba and many EU members were limited for more than a year.
Last week, Cuba re-established contacts with eight other European nations: France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. Cuba earlier had resumed formal contact with Spain, Belgium and Hungary.
In Washington, the US State Department expressed hope Monday that European nations would continue to support the Cuban opposition despite the resumption of official contact with Fidel Castro's government.
Relations between Cuba and Europe chilled after Cuba cracked down on the island's US financed opposition in March 2003, rounding up and sentencing 75 so-called dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.
European nations were also troubled by the firing-squad executions for acts of terrorism around the same time of three men who tried to hijack a ferry to the United States endangering lives in the process.
EU members responded by reducing high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba and to invite the US- financed 'dissidents' to embassy gatherings - a policy that Cuban officials dfound insulting.
But some European nations, led by Spain's new Socialist government, say the EU sanctions have had little effect, and pressed for a new policy.
The deep freeze began melting in November as European Union reviewed its diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and the Caribbean nation began releasing some of the 75 dissidents from prison on parole for health reasons.
EU relations warming up
EU officials end the 'cocktail war' - a view from Germany
This report comes from the German news website Deutsche Welle
For more than a year, ties between Brussels and Havana were put on ice. Now the Castro regime aims to reignite diplomatic relations with the EU - but not with all members.
Cuba has decided to resume contact with the embassies of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. According to the country’s foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, Havana wants to once again reach out to Brussels.
But the EU list is far from complete. Fidel Castro’s government only plans on reviving ties to those EU members who no longer invite dissidents to official embassy affairs in the Caribbean island’s capital. Among those not included are the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The partial warming up of European relations comes after the EU council on foreign affairs recommended in December that the bloc end diplomatic sanctions. Earlier in the week, Roque acknowledged that the change in EU policy had led to Havana’s decision. Already a month ago Cuba reestablished contact to Spain, Belgium and Hungary.
End of diplomatic sanctions
In 2003 the EU put all relations with Cuba on hold after some 75 dissidents were arrested and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. Castro’s government responded in kind by breaking off all ties to European embassies in Cuba.
Since June, however, 14 of the dissidents have been released and Brussels has been reconsidering its position.
“Both sides have moved back closer to each other because they are both interested in resuming a normalization of relations,” said Bert Hoffmann from the Institute for Ibero-American Studies in Germany.
“The Cubans have made a significant step towards resuming ties by releasing a portion of the dissidents,” he said and added that the Europeans had done their part by refusing to invite dissidents to receptions in their embassies.
It’s also likely that this “low profile diplomacy” will lead to an agreement about releasing all of the dissidents in the near future, Hoffman said.
EU divides over Cuba
Not all EU members are happy about resuming relations with Havana. Those countries still on Castro’s black list have resisted a reorientation of EU policy on Cuba. As a result, contact between the Cuban government and the embassies of the Netherlands and the three new member states is still frozen.
“The EU needs to be careful that the issue of Cuba does not divide the bloc,” Hoffman said. “Due to their (communist) past, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia understandably have a different relationship to Cuba as compared to Spain, for example.”
Havana recognizes this and as a result tries to conduct as much business bilaterally as possible and avoids dealing with the EU as a whole.
Hoffmann predicted that it will not come to a big rift in the EU over Cuba - unlike two years ago with the war in Iraq. But he is nonetheless doubtful that the EU will be able to speak with one voice regarding Cuba. Interests in the 25-member bloc are still too diverse, he said. While people in Madrid think first of the economy in Cuba, those in Prague are primarily considered with human rights issues.
Contacts with European embassies restored
HAVANA Jan 3 - Cuba moved to end its diplomatic deadlock with eight European Union nations on Monday in response to proposals by EU officials to stop inviting dissidents to National Day receptions in Havana.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Cuba was reopening official contacts with the embassies of France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden.
European diplomats welcomed the announcement as a major step toward normalizing relations between Cuba and the European Union, the island's main trade and investment partner.
EU embassies began inviting political opponents to diplomatic cocktail parties in 2003 to protest against alleged human rights violations in Cuba.
In response the Cuban government shut its doors to European diplomats, shunned ambassadors and did not return telephone calls.
After Cuba freed 14 of the 75 so-called 'dissidents' last year, a EU working group on Latin America recommended on Dec. 14 that the policy be dropped in favour of more discreet contacts with the alleged dissidents.
"As a result of the decision by the EU's Latin American committee to renounce invitations to national day celebrations of mercenaries paid and directed by the United States, Cuba has decided to restore official contacts with the embassies of a group of EU countries," Perez Roque told reporters.
Cuba had already restored contacts with Spain, whose Socialist government called for the policy review to end the deadlock with its former colony, while Belgium avoided the diplomatic freeze by not inviting dissidents to its receptions.
Still on Cuba's blacklist among the EU countries with embassies in Havana are the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have opposed a softening in policy.
EU foreign ministers are expected to decide later this month whether to scrap or scale down the national day celebrations by not inviting Cuban authorities or dissidents.
The policy change would also restore high-level visits by European officials to Cuba that were halted in June 2003.
To allay any impression of a climbdown, the EU will continue to press for the release of all alleged political detainees and intensify contacts with so-called dissidents, EU officials said.
The move to mend relations between Cuba and Europe comes at a time of increased tensions between Havana and Washington.
The Bush administration last year stepped up its economic blockade against Cuba, restricting visits by Cuban emigres to their families. Havana has barred the use of the US dollar in Cuba.
Cuba denies it has political prisoners and says the so-called dissidents are "counterrevolutionary mercenaries" funded by the United States to undermine its socialist system.