The Europe – Cuba NGO Network welcomes the EU Council’s new conclusions on Cuba, due to the emphasis it placed on reaffirming the EU’s commitment to prioritizing human rights; the release of political prisoners; and the relevance of the 1996 Common Position on Cuba.
The full text of the EU Council’s Foreign Relations’ conclusions released after their meeting in Luxemburg on June 15th represents a more clearly articulated position than the one from 2008 in several important ways.
First and foremost, the Europe – Cuba NGO Network is pleased that the EU has reaffirmed its commitment to the Common Position of 1996, which some high level EU political figures have advocated getting rid of as the only means of deepening the ongoing dialogue between Europe and the government of Cuba. As long as the government of Cuba doesn’t improve the human rights situation, then the Common Position will continue to be relevant.
Second, the statements that “the principles of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms” will remain a high priority issue and that “its policy for EU contacts with peaceful pro-democracy opposition remains valid” should help to ensure that bilateral discussions maintain a two track approach. However, while there is evidence that high level delegations have voiced their concerns about the widespread repression to Cuban officials and diplomats, not a single high level EU delegation or EU politician has actually met with representatives from these oppressed individuals and civil society organizations. If the goal of these conclusions is to facilitate the deepening of the dialogue between the European Union and Cuba, then the European Union must be allowed to hear more than one side of the story.
High level EU representatives and policy makers must be allowed to meet freely with members of independent Cuban civil society and the government of Cuba should be encouraged to allow Cubans invited by the EU troika to come to speak for themselves by granting them the necessary exit visas for traveling abroad.
Third, the Europe – Cuba NGO Network considers the Council’s commitment to “improving the lives of the Cuban people” through development cooperation and humanitarian aid as a positive goal, but one that needs to be implemented carefully. It is undeniable that the Cuban government’s mismanagement of the economy has led to widespread poverty and chronic shortages of basic goods. Cuba’s economy has needed structural reforms for years and the quality of life on the island has long been in decline for anyone without direct access to US dollars or remittances from abroad. The EU’s Development Assistance should earmark at least 10% for human rights defenders and should be included on the COLAT agenda for further discussion with their EU based partners. Humanitarian aid from the EU represents a significant source of funds for Cuba to improve its infrastructure, to reform its agricultural sector and to respond to natural disasters such as the devastating hurricanes, but these funds must be aimed to improve the lives of all Cuban people, not just those who support the government, such as the various government organized non-governmental organizations.
As much as the Europe – Cuba NGO Network supports humanitarian aid, development cooperation and cultural exchanges, EU Development Assistance funds must not only go to individuals and organizations that support the government of Cuba.
Lastly, the Europe – Cuba NGO Network wants to emphasize that the onus of truly deepening the dialogue between Europe and Cuba rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of Cuba. Several of the conditions mentioned in the Council’s conclusions, such as the release of all political prisoners or granting “freedom of information and expression, including access to the internet to the Cuban people,” can only be implemented by the government of Cuba. The European Union has commendably taken great strides to open up the lines of communication over the last year, but such negotiations require a certain amount of give and take. So far, the EU has pretty much done all of the giving, while Cuba has done all of the taking. The time has come for the Cuban government to prove that these efforts have been worthwhile and received in good faith.
Asociación Española Cuba en Transición (Spain)
Asociatia Pro Democratia (Romania)
Christian Democratic International Center – KIC (Sweden)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (UK)
Cuba Futuro (Netherlands)
Freedom and Democracy Foundation (Poland)
Fundación Hispano Cubana (Spain)
International Society for Human Rights (Germany)
Solidaridad Española con Cuba (Spain)
Swedish International Liberal Center (Sweden)