MEPs attack Cuba over human rights abuses

12.03.10 @ 09:20

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - MEPs have condemned the recent death of a Cuban dissident hunger striker as "avoidable and cruel", complicating the Spanish EU presidency's attempts at normalising relations with the Caribbean island.

A parliamentary resolution, adopted on Thursday (11 March) by 509 votes to 30, with 14 abstentions, called on Cuba to immediately release its political prisoners and urged the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, to push the Communist government towards greater democracy.

"We cannot afford another death in Cuba. We call for the immediate release of all political prisoners," Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European assembly, said.

The strong criticism from euro deputies of all political colours follows the death two weeks ago of jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who succumbed after an 83-day hunger strike.

Another ailing prisoner, freelance journalist Guillermo Farinas who has been on hunger strike since 24 February, was rushed to hospital on Thursday after losing consciousness.

Human rights organisations say there are some 200 political prisoners in jails around Cuba, the island ruled by the Communist Party since dictator Fulgencio Batista was ousted in 1959.

Spanish government

The European parliamentary resolution is a set-back for the Spanish government, which had hoped to take steps towards normalising relations with Cuba during its six-month tenure of the EU's rotating presidency, due to expire this June.

Backed by Spain's former centre-right prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, the EU adopted a so-called common position towards Cuba in 1996, linking dialogue with Havana to advances in democracy and supporting a stronger relationship with the country's dissident movement.

The current Spanish government of centre-left leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero argues the strategy has failed to produce the required results, insisting that a revision of the EU position would not diminish the bloc's call for a defence of freedoms on the island.

Foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Spanish deputies in Madrid on Thursday that the government intended to push ahead with its ambitions of revising the EU's policy, despite the European parliamentary vote.

"What we're going to attempt is to move that position to one that seems reasonable," said Mr Moratinos.

Spain "has no difficulty" with this current framework, added the foreign minister, but after 13 years "different circumstances" exist and the EU would be well advised to update it.

Cuba hits back

Havana hit back with a stinging response to the critical parliamentary resolution on Thursday, saying it had no intention of responding to international pressure.

"Following a sullied debate, the European Parliament has just passed a condemnation resolution against our country, manipulating sentiments, distorting facts, deceiving people and obscuring reality," Cuba's national parliament declared in a statement.

"Cubans find it offensive this attempt at teaching us lessons," the declaration continued.