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13th Jul 2020

Cuban dissidents raise alarm over Spanish EU presidency

Cuban prisoners of conscience have written an open letter to Spain in protest at its dealings with Cuban authorities in the run-up to the Spanish EU presidency.

The letter, signed by 37 dissidents, 33 of whom remain behind bars, criticised Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos for failing to meet with human rights campaigners while visiting Havana last week.

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  • Spanish foreign minister Moratinos has come under fire for backing the Cuban regime (Photo: Council of Europe)

"The refusal to meet with the opposition, listen to its opinions and become aware of the suffering of political prisoners and their families is a sign of contempt which the minister already showed during his previous visit in 2007," the letter said.

Noting that Spain is to assume the EU's rotating presidency in January 2010, the letter pleaded that "[this] attitude of contempt, with which the Spanish government treats Cuban democrats, should not encompass the entire European Union."

The letter said that around 200 political prisoners are still in jail in the Caribbean dictatorship and that there is no genuine will for reform, despite Havana's decision to release one dissident shortly after the Moratinos trip.

Limited acts of clemency which coincide with visits by friendly governments have in the past been lambasted by NGOs such as People In Need, which see them as public relations stunts designed to help Cuban allies save face.

Mr Moratinos at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday (27 October) told press that Spain will conduct a review of EU relations with Cuba under its EU presidency, but that any modifications to the status quo will be based on an EU "consensus," not on Spanish ideas.

The existing EU position on Cuba is "to encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people" - a text that irks the Cuban government, which sees it as interference in its domestic affairs.

The current centre-left Spanish government has in recent years worked to unravel a set of EU sanctions on Cuba imposed after a 2003 crackdown on dissidents known as the "Black Spring."

Spain, a former colonial power in the region, has commercial interests in Cuba in the oil and tourism sectors, with Mr Moratinos last week helping secure the release of around €200 million owed by Cuba to Spanish firms.

Madrid's stance towards Havana also has an ideological aspect, with some left-leaning politicians and commentators in Europe seeing Cuba in romantic terms as a Communist country which stood up to the capitalist might of the US.

Mr Moratinos' personal track record on human rights issues is causing concern among human rights workers as Spain heads towards its EU chairmanship.

The Spanish minister has in the past spoken in praise of hawkish Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and was a strong advocate of dropping EU sanctions against Uzbekistan in his time as head of the OSCE, a Vienna-based pro-democracy body.

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