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6th May 2021

EU human rights prize could impact Cuba relations

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has been named as a top contender for the European Parliament's 2010 Sakharov Prize in a move that could negatively impact Spain's ambition to normalise Cuba-EU relations.

The 48-year-old psychologist and journalist, who has to date taken part in 23 hunger strikes against the Communist government, has won the backing of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) grouping in the chamber, the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group and 91 other MEPs in the run-up to the award in October. The bloc constitutes over half the members in the assembly.

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  • Guillermo Farinas on hunger strike (Photo: Wikipedia)

The last time a Cuban nominee won the prize, the NGO Ladies in White in 2005, it angered Havana and Fidel Castro himself spoke out against MEPs.

The Farinas nomination comes amid a Spanish campaign for the EU to lift its last remaining sanctions on Cuba.

Spain has strong commercial interests in its former colony. But its proposal earlier this year to lift the EU measures fell on deaf ears after the death in custody of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

In the past few months Cuba agreed with Spain to free 52 political prisoners on condition they leave the country, creating fresh momentum on the EU sanctions move. Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez reportedly told his Spanish counterpart in New York on Thursday (23 September) it is ready to free more people even if they do not leave.

The centre-right EPP group does not share the centre-left Spanish administration's optimism on Cuba, however.

A parliament official indicated that its Farinas nomination could even be designed to harm Spain's initiative. "This [the Sakharov nomination] comes at a time when there is talk of normalising Cuba-EU relations, and the EPP is against this," the official said.

Names from Africa and the Middle East dominate the rest of the Sakharov shortlist.

Syrian human rights lawyer Haytham Al-Maleh is also a candidate, as are Western Sahara human rights worker Aminatou Haidar; jailed Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak; Ethiopian politician Birtukan Mideksa; Vietnamese priest Nguyen Van Ly; online communications NGO Access; Israeli army transparency NGO Breaking the Silence; and Open Doors, an outfit trying to protect the rights of Christian minorities around the world.

Three Sakharov finalists will be chosen by a committee vote in mid-October. The winner will be decided at a behind-closed-doors meeting of EP political group leaders on 21 October and honoured at a ceremony in Strasbourg (in absentia if need be) in December.

The €50,000 award has a much smaller profile worldwide than the Nobel Peace Prize. But past Sakharov laureates say it is an important contribution to psychological well-being and personal safety.

Belarusian opposition politician Alaksandar Milinkievic, who won it in 2006, told EUobserver by phone from Minsk on Thursday (23 September): "It was very important in terms of moral support for all of those fighting for change in Belarus, often in difficult circumstances."

"It also offers a certain protection. Not just myself, but Belarusian opposition activists in general suffered fewer infractions afterward. It's a very important prize."

This story was updated at 08.30 Brussels time on 24 September to include the report about Bruno Rodriguez offer in New York

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