by Anthony Boadle | Reuters
The European Union is considering a shift in policy toward Cuba that would get it back on speaking terms with President Fidel Castro’s government, diplomats say.
EU policy-makers will meet on Tuesday in Brussels to discuss whether to stop inviting dissidents to National Day receptions in Havana, a practice that so incensed the Cuban government it shut its doors to European diplomats.
Spain and Britain believe the diplomatic freeze, in which ambassadors are shunned and telephone calls are not returned, has led to a dead-end that runs counter to EU interests in Cuba.
“I think the policy will change by the end of the year,” one European diplomats said. “There is a mood for change, provided we can get it right.”
“We are in limbo. The freeze makes it hard for us to do what we should be doing here, which is prepare for a post-Castro transition,” he said.
The issue has divided the 25-country EU.
Germany and the Netherlands, as well as several new members from Central Europe that lived under Soviet communism, oppose changes in policy without an improvement in Cuba’s rights record.
The attempt to restore political dialogue with Havana was begun by Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, the EU country with most trade, cultural and historical ties to Cuba, its former colony.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, meeting last Monday with Zapatero in Spain, doubted restoring dialogue with Havana would help advance democracy in Cuba. Schroeder said “underlying conditions in Cuba still need to be developed.”
Spain wants to lift measures adopted by Brussels last year in response to the imprisonment of 75 dissidents and the summary execution of three Cubans who hijacked a ferry to try to escape to the United States. Only seven of the imprisoned dissidents have been freed.
The EU steps included inviting dissidents to National Day parties and ending high-level political visits to Cuba.
Spanish officials said those measures had served their purpose of raising the profile of Cuban dissidents and gaining them international recognition, but had led to a dead end that limited European influence in Cuba.
The diplomatic freeze hinders contact with middle-level Cuban officials, as well as intellectuals and artists who have been told not to attend European diplomatic events.
Some countries insist whatever changes are made—scrapping the National Day receptions altogether is one option—the visibility of Cuba’s dissidents must be maintained.
Sceptical diplomats in Havana believe Cuba has no interest in improving relations with Europe if it means making changes.
“The former eastern bloc countries are saying: ‘Forget about it. We know how these people work and you will get nowhere,’” said one diplomat.
With the re-election of U.S. President George W. Bush, who is stepping up efforts to undermine Castro, Cuba will likely keep the lid firmly shut on dissent, a South American diplomat said.
Cuban dissidents oppose any relaxation of policy toward Castro, who they believe is on his last legs. They say they can survive without the cocktail parties, like they did for years.