Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cautious Response to Lifting of EU Sanctions

CUBA: By Patricia Grogg HAVANA, Jun 20 (IPS) - Cuba reacted cautiously to the announcement that the European Union would lift the diplomatic sanctions adopted after 75 dissidents received lengthy jail terms on charges of conspiring with Washington to destabilise the Cuban state, and three men convicted of hijacking a passenger ferry were executed, in 2003. The governing Communist Party daily newspaper Granma published the news Friday under the headline: EU Foreign Ministers Revoke Unjust Sanctions against Cuba. The brief article also says "the EU plans to reactivate political dialogue with Havana." But European diplomatic sources consulted by IPS clarified that the article cannot be considered an official response by the government. "There will surely be a response when the authorities see the document on the question," which could be approved next Monday in Brussels, according to one of the sources. "If that has occurred, I believe it is a step in the right direction," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said Thursday night when approached by a Reuters journalist at a reception held in honour of Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez. EU ambassadors in Havana held their monthly meeting Friday, in which the decision to lift sanctions, which was already expected, was "just one more point" on the agenda, said a diplomat who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity. Some dissident groups responded to the announcement with disappointment or outright rejection, while more moderate groups said the EU decision was "the right thing to do." "We support dialogue as a route towards democratisation," dissident leader Manuel Cuesta told IPS. "Now we have to say that the ball is in the Cuban government’s court." The EU temporarily suspended the sanctions in 2005. But in March, the Cuban government insisted that dialogue would only be possible if the measures were officially eliminated. The sanctions included a limit on high-level government visits, a reduction in EU participation in Cuban cultural events, and invitations to dissidents to the receptions held in European embassies in Havana on the countries' national days. The participation of dissidents in embassy receptions particularly irritated the Cuban government, which considers them "mercenaries" at the service of a hostile U.S. policy towards Cuba. According to the news from Brussels, the foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries reached an agreement that proposes, besides the removal of the measures, the start of a political dialogue with the Cuban government, now headed by Raúl Castro. But at the behest of several countries opposed to the decision, the EU will reassess the results of the dialogue on political and human rights questions a year from now. Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos clarified, however, that the reassessment will not consider a renewal of the measures, which have been definitively struck down. Granma said that condition was "a renewed commitment to the so-called Common Position" on Cuba sponsored in 1996 by the Spanish rightwing government of Prime Minister José María Aznar (1996-2004), which in Havana’s view is "an instrument that meddles in Cuba’s internal affairs." The Common Position was approved by the European Council with the stated aim of encouraging a gradual, peaceful transition towards a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and basic freedoms in Cuba, and towards improved living standards. That stance, which has complicated relations and has stood in the way of a framework cooperation accord between the EU and Cuba for years, was not mentioned as a hurdle to the normalisation of ties during European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel’s visit to Havana in March. On that occasion, Michel and his host, Foreign Minister Pérez Roque, agreed that to engage in broad political dialogue encompassing all issues, including human rights, it was essential to lift the 2003 sanctions. Michel said he was in favour of such a move, but clarified that it was up to the European Council to decide, and that the decision had to be unanimous. In a press conference in Brussels, Foreign Minister Moratinos said the aim in removing the diplomatic measures was to initiate a stage of dialogue that is neither conditioned nor limited by measures that, in the view of Spain’s socialist government, have never been especially useful and were even counterproductive. Madrid heads the group of countries in favour of dialogue with the Cuban government, which has repeatedly stated that it will not accept pressure or impositions of any kind.

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