3rd Jun 2020

Spain on Cuba mission as dissident nears death

  • Cuban street scene (Photo: Frans Persoon)

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has arrived in Cuba, just as one of the country's most high-profile political prisoners is reportedly near death following a prolonged hunger strike.

Before departing from Madrid on Monday (5 July), Mr Moratinos told journalists the aim of his three-day trip was to support a dialogue between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church on improving respect for human rights.

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The Spanish minister will hold talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez, and the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega. A meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro "is not yet confirmed," said the Spanish foreign ministry.

Some contact will also be made with the entourage of Cuban activist Guillermo Farinas. Mr Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist, is reportedly close to death after 132 days on hunger strike in defiance of the country's Communist government. He is demanding that sick political prisoners be freed.

Spurred on by Mr Moratinos' visit, Spain believes the Cuban government will shortly begin releasing political prisoners, starting with 26 who are in poor health.

As a result, Mr Farinas is likely to come under Spanish pressure to end his hunger strike. "We think that [Farinas] should already feel satisfied with his aims and that he should work, as we are all doing, to improve human rights in Cuba," Mr Moratinos told press before his departure.

"I obviously have other objectives on this visit to Cuba that make it worthwhile and can lead to results and help all the citizens of Cuba."

The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) has also suggested that Havana is preparing to release between 30 and 40 of the country's political prisoners, currently estimated to number 167 by the group.

Media reports suggest France and Italy are prepared to take a number of the prisoners who would be forced to leave Cuba, although the majority are likely to go to the US.

EU's 'common position' on Cuba

Spain used its recently expired tenure of the EU's rotating presidency to push for an overhaul of the bloc's policy towards Cuba, but with little effect.

Since 1996, the EU has held a 'common position' towards the island nation ruled by the two Castro brothers, insisting that diplomatic relations are dependent on Havana taking steps in favour of democracy and human rights. Spain argues that the policy has not achieved results.

The release of several dozen political prisoners could help convince wary EU member states to alter their positions by the end of the year, said Mr Moratinos.

As a result of the dialogue with the church that began in May, the Cuban regime released the paraplegic dissident Ariel Sigler last month, and moved 12 other political detainees to prisons closer to their homes.

Much is riding on the final outcome of Mr Farinas, however. During unprecedented coverage of a dissident's protest, the Communist Party daily newspaper, Granma, reported on Saturday that the prisoner could soon die.

In an opposition blog on Monday, Mr Farinas complained however that the paper failed to mentioned why he was on a hunger strike.

"I want to die in my country right under the noses of the dictators who have the guns, rifles, cannons and bombs. I have the moral weight of the people from below, who have been deceived and repressed for 51 years by those who have the weapons," he wrote.

MEPs attack Cuba over human rights abuses

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.

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