2nd Apr 2020

EU advocates dropping Cuba sanctions

EU development commissioner Louis Michel has suggested the EU drop sanctions against Cuba and start a "new era" in the bloc's relations with the communist island.

Speaking on his trip to Havana over the weekend, Mr Michel said: "I've noticed a lot of changes in Cuba," adding: "The spirit, the open-mindedness and the atmosphere of the talks encourage me to believe that there is a improvement in the dialogue process between the EU and Cuba," according to press reports.

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The Belgian commissioner was the first high-level EU official to visit the Caribbean island after the bloc imposed sanctions against Havana in 2003, following its imprisonment of 75 political activists.

Unlike the US trade and political embargo in place since 1962, the EU sanctions affected only diplomatic contacts, not trade and investment activities by Europeans on the island. In 2005, the EU partially suspended the sanctions but kept them subject to reinstatement through periodic reviews of Cuba's human rights record.

Havana insists that the sanctions be dropped completely. "We are not yet totally immersed in political dialogue," Cuban foreign minister Perez Roque told reporters on Saturday (8 March). "To get to that point it is obviously necessary to remove one obstacle, which is the EU sanctions that have only been suspended," he added.

And commissioner Michel did signal he would advocate such a move in Brussels, suggesting in a joint communique that the EU sanctions pose "the main obstacle" to establishing the bloc's political talks with Havana and "should be definitively eliminated."

Out of 75 dissidents jailed since 2003, sixteen have been released on medical grounds and another four were freed into forced exile in Spain in February while 55 are still serving long prison sentences.

In February, Raul Castro (76) was unanimously elected by the country's National Assembly to succeed his ailing 81-year-old brother Fidel as the new Cuban leader. However, he has been in effect the island's president since Fidel's major surgery in July 2006.

No change in Cuba policy in Washington

The EU commissioner's positive signals on Cuba strongly contrast with a message by the US President George W. Bush, delivered on Friday (7 March) after his meeting with relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

"So far, all Cuba has done is replace one dictator with another. And its former ruler is still influencing events from behind the scenes," he said, referring to the recent handover of power between the Castro brothers.

The American leader criticised suggestions of a warming up to the new regime in Havana in some Western capitals as well as calls for a softer US stance on Cuba. "That sentiment is exactly backward. To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States, what needs to change is Cuba," he said, according to the AFP news agency.

Mr Bush said Washington is still supported in its policy on Havana by "a small number of brave nations," naming the eight countries in central and eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004.

It is expected that several of these countries will be against dropping the EU's sanctions on Cuba when the member states come back to the issue in June.

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