17th Jun 2019

EU invites talks on 'new situation' in Cuba

EU foreign ministers have invited a Cuban delegation to visit Brussels while suspending diplomatic sanctions for a further six months, in a move claimed as victory by the pro-relations Spanish camp but seen as a compromise by the more human rights-oriented Czech side.

"The EU would be ready to resume a comprehensive and open political dialogue with the Cuban authorities...For sounding out this, a Cuban delegation will be invited to Brussels," the ministers said in a statement on Monday (18 June), with no details of who is to come from Havana or when the trip might take place.

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  • Cuban dancers: Havana cultivates European tourists, but daily life is hard for ordinary islanders (Photo: wikipedia)

The invitation - after four years of official silence between Europe and the Caribbean regime - was made in the context of Fidel Castro's health problems, with the EU saying "the first temporary transfer of power in 48 years to a collective leadership led by his brother Raoul Castro...constitutes a new situation."

The declaration saw a reminder the EU "deplores" Cuban human rights abuses and "urges" Havana to free political prisoners. "The EU will continue to pursue its dialogue with Cuba's civil society and to offer all sectors of society practical support toward peaceful change," the EU ministers said.

The accent on human rights restates an existing EU position dating back to 1996. But a more racy EU strategy paper on how to promote "self-determination" by Cuban people via new projects on education and energy has been left on the shelf, after Spain blocked its publication for fear of harming nascent relations.

The EU reference to ongoing "practical support" for the Cuban opposition also masks inactivity on the ground in Havana. A recent visit to the capital by an EUobserver correspondent was told EU embassies are bugged by Cuban secret police and tiny EU funds are only spent on state-sponsored "cultural" schemes.

Spain - which had originally pushed to have sanctions lifted permanently - saw the EU statement as validation of its approach. "The Spanish position won through - that means dialogue. The gamble of going to Cuba paid off," the IHT reported Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos as saying, after he visited the island in April.

The Czech republic and the UK were more wary. "We'll see if they [the Cubans] show up, and if so, what the talks will bring," Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg told newswires. "We have our principles which are also the principles of the European Union. We have to support those so as not to delude ourselves."

The British foreign office explained that Monday's decision reiterates "the EU's desire for political and economic reform in Cuba and that human rights remain at the heart of the EU's policy toward Cuba."

Clash of EU ideologies

Spain - a colonial power in Cuba until 1898 - is bidding for new oil contracts in Cuban waters. But its position also reflects the ideology of some left-wing European politicians, who see the island as having bravely resisted a US trade embargo while developing healthcare and progressive environmental reforms.

The Czech and British line - a mixture of post-Communist appetite for velvet revolutions and wider pro-US foreign policy alignment - portrays Cuba as an anachronistic dictatorship. Czech diplomats and NGOs say basic healthcare is not available to the poor, in a police state that hounds its critics to jail.

Eighty-year old Fidel Castro, a living symbol of the Cold War, on Monday published an article accusing the US of trying to conquer his country. The leader's occasional media forays are designed to show he is alive and well after last July going down with suspected diverticulitis - inflammation of the large intestine.

In a front page piece in daily Granma entitled "You will never have Cuba," he wrote he had been on "the brink of life and death" but promised to continue buying "pertinent firepower" to resist a US threat. Addressing the US president, he wrote "You shouldn't doubt it either, Mr Bush. I can assure you, you will never have Cuba!"

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