EUObserver.com | By Andrew Rettman
Details have emerged of a draft new EU strategy to raise the prospects of “self-determination” for people living in Cuba, but a meeting of EU diplomats on Wednesday (6 June) saw ongoing Spanish opposition to giving the document any official status.
The draft strategy, prepared by the German EU presidency on 9 February, is designed to replace the existing EU line on Cuba agreed back in 1996. The potential policy shift is timed to address questions arising out of 80-year old Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s recent poor health.
“It is not the EU’s aim to bring about a regime change, the EU nevertheless strongly believes that positive developments in Cuba can be achieved in terms of self-determination through [advances in] democracy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” the 11-point draft German paper suggests.
The EU is ready to “engage in intensified exchange [with Havana] in a range of fields including culture, education, science, youth and sport and to cooperate on matters regarding energy, natural resources, environment, climate change and infrastructure, among others,” it goes on.
The text adds that any new EU-Cuba political dialogue would see Europe call for the release of political prisoners and explain its views on the importance of human rights. And it urges Havana to refrain from actions that could endanger foreign tourists by provoking “unpeaceful political developments.”
In terms of wider international relations, the paper calls for a “more active dialogue on Cuba in [EU] trans-Atlantic relations” as well as with EU-friendly Latin American and Caribbean states. And it promises to put EU pressure on Washington to repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, blocking US-Cuba trade
EU-Cuba relations collapsed in 2003 when Castro gave long jail sentences to 75 dissidents. But Spain persuaded EU colleagues in 2005 to suspend diplomatic sanctions and the European Commission these days gives u2;0AC1.3 million a year in aid to state-approved cultural projects.
The question of Fidel Castro’s grip on power was raised when he vanished from sight with reported colon damage last July. His brother, Raoul, currently runs the regime, but Fidel on 2 June appeared on Cuban TV to demonstrate that his health is returning to form.
Inside the EU, a pro-democracy camp led by the Czech republic is pushing for the new EU strategy as a mandate to help Cuban opposition groups get ready for potential political transition around election time next March. But another camp, led by Spain, thinks the EU should not rock the boat.
A 6 June meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels saw the Spain camp again oppose the draft paper and push for EU sanctions to stay on the shelf. Another meeting of EU national experts on Latin America is set for 12 June, but EU officials say there is unlikely to be any change to the status quo in the coming months.
“We’re in a kind of interregnum, without knowing what will come afterward,” an EU official said. “Spain says that any statement, whatever it says, even if it just repeats existing policy, would be unhelpful [in terms of EU-Cuba relations] at this point.” The draft paper is not that much different from the 1996 line, he added.
When Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos visited Havana in April - breaking a long-standing EU taboo on high-level contacts - he attracted criticism for failing to meet with dissidents, despite getting agreement for a new “human rights dialogue” and securing the release of some prisoners.
Czech NGO People in Need says Spain - which is bidding for new oil contracts in Cuban waters and has some u2;0AC1 billion a year in trade with the island - is mainly interested in money. The NGO believes the human rights dialogue and the prisoner gestures are fig leaves for more cynical interests.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, after meeting Mr Moratinos in Madrid last Friday, was also critical. “I made very clear…I have real doubts about the value of engagement with a regime that is antidemocratic,” she said, the New York Times reported. “People who are struggling for a democratic future need to know that they are supported by those of us who are lucky enough to be free.”
“What the US has to understand is that, given they have no relations with Cuba, they should trust in a faithful, solid ally like Spain,” Mr Moratinos said. “What Spain [a colonial power in Cuba until 1898] is not prepared to do is be absent from Cuba.”