The Council of EU Foreign Ministers on Monday approved a joint foreign policy line with respect to Cuba. Although they criticized the Castro regime for its human rights record, the council voted to extend a suspension of EU sanctions against Cuba until next June. This came as a great disappointment to Czech foreign ministry officials who spearheaded a drive to see diplomatic sanctions re-imposed.
In January of this year the EU suspended the sanctions it had slapped on Havana in June 2003 following a crackdown on dissidents. And despite few tangible results in the field of human rights over the past few months the EU remains in favour of a milder foreign policy line. Does the carrot and stick approach work when applied to a dictatorship and would diplomatic sanctions produce the desired result or merely lead to Cuba's greater isolation? Those are questions that were heatedly debated by the Council of EU foreign ministers. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, all countries with a communist past, were in favour of a hard line approach, Spain argued that re-imposing sanctions would prove counter-productive and that if the EU maintained a dialogue with the regime the chances of putting pressure on it would be greater than if communication channels were closed. In the end the majority of EU members voted against re-imposing sanctions. Dana Baschova of the non-governmental organisation People in Need which is actively involved in helping Cuban dissidents, is disappointed by the decision:
"I think that Europe should send a clear signal that we support the democratic opposition in Cuba and I think that it is necessary to support them not only morally, but in every possible way. The EU supports and promotes democracy in so many countries and I think that Cuba should be one of them."
So you think this decision was a mistake?
"This is surely a mistake. Europe cannot listen to what Fidel Castro wants. Like when Castro tells us that we are not supposed to invite dissidents to our embassies - well, this is something we cannot agree to because if we are democrats then we have to invite all people to our embassies, to our houses."
The question of whether Cuban dissidents should be invited to EU embassy events in Havana is one of the few minor points where Czech foreign ministry officials proved successful. With support from Germany, Sweden and Denmark they convinced the council that the decision should be left to individual embassies, opening the way for closer contacts.
Human rights violations on the island are also to receive greater priority in the future. The EU ministers have agreed to maintain what they call a "targeted dialogue" with the Cuban government, insisting that human rights be brought up at each meeting. "It was a compromise solution," the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said after the vote, adding "it was better than nothing".
As for dissidents in Cuba - many are disappointed by the EU's failure to produce tangible results. As one of them told the media "the EU sanctions didn't work, but lifting them didn't work either."
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