Several European ambassadors on Monday listened to the ideas of four well-known Cuban dissidents on how to prompt change under Fidel Castro’s government, marking the first such gathering since the EU dropped sanctions against the island this year. Ambassadors from countries including Spain, France and the Czech Republic spent more than two hours discussing Cuba’s future and the situation of political prisoners with activists Oswaldo Paya, Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca and Manuel Cuesta Morua.
“A new process of political dialogue has started to open with this first meeting,” Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the dissident group Arco Progresista, said upon leaving the Havana residence of Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s business attache.
The attache, the EU’s highest ranking official in Cuba, declined to comment about the meeting. The ambassadors leaving the meeting made no declarations to international journalists waiting outside.
Despite personal differences between some dissidents present, those at the meeting said it was cordial and productive. The island’s dissident movement is plagued by bickering and deep mistrust among opposition ranks as well as disagreements over what role the United States should play in promoting change in Cuba.
But activists at the meeting said they found common ground in urging European nations to press for the liberation of dozens of imprisoned activists as well as for human rights such as the freedom of expression and association in Cuba.
“The liberation of the prisoners ... is an ethical obligation for Europe if it wants to have closer relations with the Cuban people,” said Paya, known internationally for organizing the Varela Project, a pro-democracy drive.
European nations were among many that criticized Cuba after 75 dissidents were rounded up and sentenced to long prison terms in a massive crackdown two years ago. Cuba accused the activists of working with U.S. officials to undermine Castro’s government - a charge the dissidents and Washington denied.
The EU changed policy toward the island in response to the crackdown, banning high-level visits by European officials and drastically reducing cultural events in Cuba.
The diplomatic freeze began melting in November as the EU reviewed the sanctions and Havana released 14 of the 75 imprisoned dissidents. At the end of January, the EU decided to drop the sanctions and restore normal relations with Cuba, while maintaining contact with government opponents.
The policy change, up for review this summer, irked some dissidents at the time.
“We have to wait,” said Roque, among the prisoners released last year and a vocal critic of the EU’s January decision. “They say they are going to do good things for us with this normalization, and we have to wait.”
“Perhaps, if we are going to wait three, four more months, they will see that Fidel Castro is deaf, and that it’s impossible to talk with him,” Roque added, speaking in English.