EU development chief sees greater hope for dialogue

Campaign News | Sunday, 27 March 2005

New mood in relations as EU Commissioner holds talks in Havana

Havana 27 March: EU development chief Louis Michel wrapped up a brief visit to Cuba with greater optimism about renewing political dialogue, he said.

"My hope is greater now than it was before coming," Michel said Saturday when asked if President Fidel Castro's government had signalled a desire to improve ties with the European Union.

"Cuban authorities confirmed their willingness to reopen political dialogue on all topics without exception," including human rights, political prisoners, the state of prisons, and legislation, among others, he said.

The former Belgian foreign minister carried out a packed two-day official visit to Cuba during which he met with Castro, cabinet members, academics and dissidents.

A four-hour meeting with Castro was marked by "frankness," he said, adding: "We covered all topics in an open atmosphere."

Michel met with dissidents Oswaldo Paya, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Marta Beatriz Roque and Vladimiro Roca, as well as Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and relatives of political prisoners.

Cuban authorities did not try to prevent or interfere with the meetings, Michel said.

EU discusses Human Rights issues with Cuba

HAVANA March 25 - European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel held talks on Friday with Cuban authorities that included sensitive human rights issues such as political prisoners and access to jails.

In the first high-level talks since a diplomatic freeze two years ago, Michel met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon.

"The mood is good and the conversations are very frank," he told reporters after his meetings.

"There is an acceptance on the Cuban side (of the need) to discuss all these very sensitive issues, human rights, the prisoners, renewed cooperation between the European Union and Cuba," he said.

Michel's visit is the most senior by a EU official since Cuba locked up 75 US-paid 'dissidents' in March 2003.

European diplomats said the visit was crucial to gauge whether a rapprochement is possible in the coming months. The EU says it depends on Cuba's willingness to make concessions on the human rights front.

Cuba has offered a dialogue on these issues in return for the EU dropping its support for the US resolutiona against Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

The Cuban courts have relased 14 of the jailed pro-US activists on health grounds. The EU has demanded that the remaining 61 be freed, but under Cuban law there is no means by which this can be done as they were found guilty of accepting gifts and money from the US Interests Section for the means of subverting the state and are serving sentences that are decreed by the law.

Michel therefore reported no progress on the issue of political prisoners, but he said he was impressed by the Cuban authorities desire to deepen talks with Brussels and put its relations with the EU back on track.

"There is space to make progress," the former Belgian foreign minister said.


Europe, which opposes the US blockade of Cuba, has been Cuba's main trade and investment partner. But Havana is increasingly turning to other allies, such as China and Venezuela.

Perez Roque said Cuba wanted to widen relations with Europe. Earlier this week, he said Havana was open to talks on human rights. But he reiterated that all the jailed dissidents are US-paid mercenaries and called on EU nations to drop their annual support for a US-sponsored resolution against Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission, currently meeting in Geneva.

Perez Roque said the EU should also abandon its "Common Position" on Cuba, a policy adopted in 1996 that makes increased relations contingent on Cuba making political changes on human rights and progress toward pluralist democracy.

Following the arrest of the US-paid 'dissidents' and the execution of three men who hijacked a ferry in early 2003, the EU suspended high-level contacts with Cuba and began inviting dissidents to its national day celebrations in Havana.

The Cuban government then froze contacts with European diplomats in a dispute dubbed the "cocktail war." Castro accused the EU of caving in to pressure the United States and rejected European development aid.

At the request of Spain's new Socialist government and with th suport of the UK, the EU lifted its diplomatic sanctions in January and reverted to a policy of engagement that will be reviewed in June or July.

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