At Berlin Conference, 26 April, 2007
Can I first of all say how sorry I am not to be with you in Berlin, but it’s very difficult to get there from here in Strasburg, where the European Parliament is meeting this week. I was privileged to go to Cuba as the guest of the ICDC last November. And I’m very grateful to the organization for making that possible. I was intending to go with a colleague from the German Bundestag, but he was refused a visa. I spent three days in Cuba, and while I was there I met a number of diplomats and also a number of the people who, I hope, very soon, will be able to form a government in free Cuba. Among others I met the Ladies in White, whose husbands, in many cases, are still in jail very far from Havana. I met Oswaldo Paya and his family; Oswaldo has been a winner of the Sakharov Prize in 2002, and he was fortunate to be able to come to Strasburg to collect this prize, which is awarded each year by the European Parliament, for freedom of expression. The Ladies in White, who were awarded it in 2005, were not so fortunate. I also met Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, who is a very popular figure and dissident in Cuba, and her work in disseminating the objection to communism, not just in Cuba, but elsewhere in Latin America and beyond, is much admired.
I am one of those people in the UK who, having no direct connections in Cuba, like people in Prague and elsewhere in Europe, and in the world, feel that the Cuban situation is exceptional. I dare say that had there been no embargo from the USA, the people of Cuba might have been free some time ago, but the embargo is a fact of life. The EU on the other hand has also a very unusual relationship with Cuba, to my mind exacting too rudely the regime; and the recent visit by Commissioner Louis Michel was highly controversial, especially the remarks he made on his departure. So I am one of those who believe that democracy and human rights are universal values that one day will find their expression again in Cuba. I’m an optimist for Cuba, I’m enormously grateful to have this opportunity of talking to your conference, and I pay tribute to all of those present at the conference for their commitment to the freedom of the people of Cuba.