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Hearing at the European Parliament on the EU policy towards Cuba

2007-06-11 / Nikola Horejs

Brussels, June 8 – Several Members of the European Parliament yesterday expressed their concern that the EU will further weaken its policy towards Cuba in its June review. The Council’s draft showed that the EU’s diplomatic sanctions, now only temporarily suspended, will be probably put to an end unconditionally, said Michael Gahler, MEP for EPP-ED, in a hearing at the European Parliament.

The EU introduced the diplomatic measures after a massive crackdown against the Cuban opposition in 2003. They had been temporarily suspended in 2005, despite the fact that the Council repeatedly admitted the situation of human rights in Cuba hadn’t improved at all. The Common Position is expected to be reviewed in a meeting on 18 and 19 of June. In a hearing co-hosted by MEPs Peter Štastný (EPP-ED), Marco Cappato (ALDE), Józef Pinior (PES), Zuzana Roithová (EPP-ED), José Ribeiro e Castro (EPP-ED), Edward McMillan-Scott and the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba the speakers said that the EU shouldn’t weaken its Common Position without signs of improvement in human rights in Cuba.
Józef Pinior, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, said all the objective reports on Cuba acknowledge the repression and denial of basic rights and that, “Cuba remains one of the last countries in the world not to let the ICRC inspect its prisons.” Another MEP José Riberio e Castro said that the Commission and Council should take a tougher stance after the Cuban regime “offended the European Parliament by not allowing the Ladies in White to come to Brussels to receive the Sakharov Award granted in 2005.” He further stated, “The European Comission should not bow to Cuba.”
Blanca Reyes, an exile member of the Ladies in White movement of wives and mothers of the Cuban political prisoners, said: “The EU’s solidarity with the political prisoners helped to contain and prevent even worse repression from occuring. Trade and economic interests shouldn’t be the primary concern of the new policy.” Another Cuban speaking at the event, Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés, one of the 16 conditionally released political prisoners, said: “The Common Position showed the EU’s will to contribute to changes in Cuba. Its inconsistency now is not helping, and moreover is allowing more time for the tyranny to continue.”
John Caloghirou from EC DG Development participated in the debate and explained that the EC also wanted to promote democracy, but saw dialogue and engagement as one of the ways of doing it. He added that there are a lot of funds to assist independent civil society in Cuba, but sometimes the European NGOs are afraid to work there.
María Luisa Bascur presented a policy paper by a group of European NGOs working in Cuba. “Neither the EU, nor its Members States, should engage in any type of humans rights dialogue with Cuba without the unconditional release of its political prisoners. Their release is a test of the real willingness of the Cuban authorities to have an authentic dialogue, and not simply a monologue, with the EU,” she said.
The event, held in the European Parliament, was co-organized by the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, a gathering of prominent statesmen and personalities founded by Václav Havel, with the contribution of People in Peril, a Slovak NGO, and People in Need, a Czech human rights and development NGO.

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This project is supported by funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic through the Transition Promotion Program.