After a gap of 27 years, the Czech Republic will soon once again have an ambassador in Cuba, Foreign Minister Lubomír Záoralek has just announced. Ties between the two countries cooled with the advent of democracy in the then Czechoslovakia, but in the last couple of years Prague has been making great efforts to improve relations with the communist state. I asked the director of the Institute for International Relations, Petr Kratochvíl, why the change had come about at this point in time.
The European Union would like to develop a political dialogue with Cuba, depending on how Havana behaves in the area of human rights, the Czech foreign minister, Jan Kohout, said at a meeting in Prague on Thursday of EU foreign ministers and the Rio Group, of which Cuba is a member. The Czech Republic, currently presiding over the EU, is a strong critic of the Cuban regime, and was opposed to the bloc’s dropping of sanctions against the country last year. The EU is set to re-examine its policy on Cuba next month. Representatives of the Rio Group, which is made up of 23 Latin American and Caribbean states, attended a summit with the EU in Prague on Wednesday and Thursday.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said that EU policy towards Cuba will be reassessed annually with regards to human rights. He described the move as an active policy approach after the EU agreed to lift sanctions against the Caribbean state. The sanctions were originally agreed in 2003 (then later temporarily suspended) in an attempt to pressure the Cuban regime to improve its record on human rights. The Czech Republic has been strongly against the lifting of sanctions in the past. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stressed on Friday that there are more than 200 political prisoners held in appalling conditions in Cuba; he made clear the Czech Republic would continue to push for their release.
Former Czech President Vaclav Havel has criticised what he described as the EU's strangely diplomatic approach to Cuba. Speaking at a conference of pro-democracy activists in Berlin, Mr Havel said EU countries tended to appease the Castro regime by not inviting dissidents to events at their embassies in Havana. He also implied that the European Union should try and catch up with the United States in terms of it support for human rights in addition to competing with America economically.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country has already
ratified the EU draft constitution, agrees with his Czech counterpart Karel
Schwarzenberg that a new European agreement supported by all EU member
states needs to be drawn up. On an official visit to Prague, Mr Moratinos
said dialogue and debate played a crucial role in finding a joint position
on the EU's future role. The two state representatives also discussed
Washington's plans to station part of its missile defence system in Poland
and the Czech Republic and their countries' positions on Cuba.
With regards to the US missile shield, Mr Schwarzenberg said it was no surprise that US lawmakers moved to cut the budget for the extension of the shield to Central Europe. Regarding Cuba, both men agreed that their countries' goals are the same but methods of achieving them differ. Spain prefers to take up the issue of human rights violations through dialogue with the Cuban government, while the Czech Republic has been pushing for Brussels to exert more political pressure on the island's totalitarian regime.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda probably has slim hopes of holding onto his job when the next government is eventually formed, but he will end his time at the Foreign Ministry on a diplomatic high note. At Monday's summit in Luxembourg, Mr Svoboda managed to persuade his EU counterparts to start working together on a mid and long-term strategy towards Cuba.
Despite strong opposition from the Czech Republic and Poland -- two new European Union member states that had lived under communist regimes -- EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to end a diplomatic freeze imposed on Cuba following the imprisonment there of 75 political activists in March 2003. But the Czechs and Poles won a moral victory in successfully pushing to allow for individual EU states to choose sides in the so-called "cocktail wars" that followed.
The former Czech president Vaclav Havel has again spoken out strongly against recent moves taken by the European Union to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba. In an open letter published on Monday in a leading Czech daily, Mr Havel said that the EU had entered into a "shameful deal" that "spit on all the principles" of democracy and human rights espoused in the draft EU constitution. The EU froze diplomatic relations with Cuba in June 2003 after some 75 dissidents were arrested and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. But in recent months, Cuba has re-established contacts with EU member states, after they agreed to stop inviting Cuban dissidents to official embassy events. The communist island nation first re-established contact with its closest ally, Spain, and finally with those most hostile to the Cuban regime: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, as well as the EU as a whole. Vaclav Havel, himself a former dissident who was imprisoned many times by communist officials, is the founder of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, an organisation that supports the families of Cuban dissidents.