Since the European Union (EU) came into existence, its evolution and growth has been connected with the defense and promotion of some values and basic democratic principles. Rule of law, democracy, economic liberty, freedom of speech and social progress have outweighed commercial interests when it came to relations with Latin America. The relation with Latin America has been shaped within a framework based on agreements, personal relations, exchanges and programs. Nevertheless, within this framework, Cuba represents an exception.
Currently, Cuba maintains diplomatic relations with the Union, which counts on a chargé d’affaires on the island, in the same way that Cuba relies on a mission in Brussels. Cuba also enjoys the commercial advantages of the System of Generalized Preferences. Therefore, the paradox is that while a playing field exists for the EU and the Cuban Government, there is no institutional link to promote it. Cuba is the only country that does not find itself linked to the Union by virtue of agreement of cooperation, of political dialogue or of association. The cause, evidently, is not attributable to the European Union.
In fact, according to the most recent report by Human Rights Watch, Cuba does not satisfy the basic demands of the democratic clause that links European Union relations with third parties countries, to the respect of basic democratic principles and values. Since 1995, this clause has come to be included in a systematic way in all agreements that the Union has made with third party countries.
On the part of the EU there have been more than a few efforts and attempts. During the Spanish Presidency of the EU Council in 1995, under the government of Felipe González, the European Council of Madrid gave a mandate to the Commission which recommended the continuation of dialogue and cooperation with Cuba with a view to the firm of an Agreement of commercial and economic Cooperation during the first semester of 1996. Thus, the Commission should present during the Italian Presidency of the Union some guidelines for the negotiation to the Council and the Parliament, with a view to conclude a bilateral agreement with Cuba.
In February 1996, Vice President of the European Commission Manuel Marín visited Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro. The visit served to confirm that there was an environment of stagnation and a lack of prevailing liberties in the country that hindered the negotiation of this agreement. Mr. Marín courageously decided that such an agreement could not be squared with the mandate of the European Council. Soon after, the brutal demolition of two airplanes from Brothers to the Rescue in December 1996 the process was blocked further and the Spanish government decided to encourage the Council to adopt the 1996 Common Position. The adoption of this document reflected the failure of the approach of dialogue and cooperation between the Cuban state and the EU that had been launched months before.
The Cuban government made a decision to try to insert itself into the picture through the less rigorous route of the ACP. The negotiations advanced considerably, to the extent of obtaining a favorable opinion of the EU-ACP Parliamentary Assembly and of 11 of the then 15 member States. Nevertheless, this way didn’t culminate in agreement after Cuba withdrew itself in the final stages of the process as an angry reaction to the difficulties presented by some member States.
The most critical moment more of Europe Cuba relations happened in 2003, when the crack down on peaceful dissidents, independent journalists and human rights defenders during the “black spring” resulted in the detention of 75 people and the execution of others. These acts led to the adoption of a series of complementary measures and the freezing of high level diplomatic relations. From that moment the Cuban authorities decided to reject all kinds of bilateral contributions with the European Union, conditioning their re-establishment to the elimination of the measures. Finally, after a temporary suspension of the same accords under the Presidency of Luxembourg in 2005, the Counsel approved their final removal in June 2008.
Year after year, the European Union has evaluated its Common Position on Cuba, reiterating its call to fully respect democracy and fundamental liberties, particularly the freedom of speech and of political association.
The objective of the Common Position is clear: to favor a process of transition toward a diverse democracy and the respect of the human rights and fundamental liberties, as well as a recovery and sustainable improvement of the standard of living of the Cuban people. This is a goal to which European institutions have been working, even if in an uneven way.
The Council has been making constant calls to its commitment to dialogue with the pacific opposition, to the liberation of the political prisoners, and verifying the lack of advances regarding human rights and offering its hand to the government for a critical dialogue. The Commission has been promoting cooperation, humanitarian aid and negotiating relations with Cuban leaders and dissidents, separating this from the defense of respect for complete rights and freedoms. While the Parliament has declared at every opportunity its unyielding and irrevocable commitment to the cause of human rights, preserving a channel for dialogue, supporting to all those inside and outside of Cuba that are fight for their liberty and their dignity, giving voice to the ones that do not they have it, (such as Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, and to the Ladies of White, through the awarding of the prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of conscience, even though to date they still have not been permitted to collect prize in flagrant violation of the elementary right of being able to enter and to leave one’s own country), supporting the principles of the Common Position and offering its support to peaceful dissents.
It does so alone some days, such as when the European Commissioner for Development Karel de Gutch conducted a visit to Havana and declared himself in favor of the need to modify the relations that join Cuba and EU and abrogating the current Common Position.
It is evident that some of us in the European Parliament do not share that approach. The European Union is a community of Rights, where legal norms are not only conceived but qualified by our obligation to comply with them. Out of an obsession for coherence and conscience, the postulates of the Common Position and of the Conclusions of the Council need to be respected.
The Spanish Presidency of the European Union will have an obligation to guide the evaluation of the Common Position in light of the actual events. The premises are very clear: the immediate and unconditional liberation of political prisoners, along with tangible, substantial advances in the respect to human rights and fundamental liberties.
Without advances on these issues, we should not be proceed to any modification of the Common Position and the EU should continue being firm, very firm, in the inescapable demand for liberty.
José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyrais a Spanish Member of the European Parilament