Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Cuban Overture

The EU is putting diplomatic and political pressure on Cuba to lighten up on dissidents by lifting sanctions. It sounds counterproductive, but it actually might work.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday approved a six-month suspension of EU diplomatic sanctions on Cuba, in hopes of winning more releases of jailed dissidents and propelling political reforms.

The widely expected decision meant that top EU officials will no longer be banned from visiting the island, and that Cuban dissidents will no longer be invited to European embassy functions in Havana — a practice in fact stopped in December.

The 25-nation bloc also, as expected, pledged to increase contacts with the dissidents and did not alter restrictions that deny Cuba access to tens of millions in EU foreign aid.

An EU statement said the decision taken by foreign ministers at their meeting in Belgium was intended to foster “a constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities aiming at tangible results in the political, economic, human rights and cooperation sphere.”


Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters in Brussels that the decision Monday would be reviewed by July with an eye toward “developments and progress” in Cuba.

“We highlighted the need to support a process leading to democratic pluralism, respect for human rights and basic freedoms,” Asselborn said.

Cuba remains blocked out of billions of dollars in EU development and trade assistance to foreign countries, however, because the communist-ruled island cannot meet criteria such as human rights improvements.

One of the reasons Castro has been able to maintain a tight grip on power for nearly half a century is because the United States insists – at the behest of a small group of politically powerful Cuban exile hardliners – on maintaining the trade embargo with Cuba that was imposed in 1961. Castro has held that act up as his sword of defiance ever since and it has been a great benefit to him. It’s his excuse to his people for the daily hardships they face: no food in the stores? Blame the Americans and their embargo. (This ignores the fact that the only other country in the world that maintains such a tight embargo on Cuba is Israel. Canada and the rest of the Western Hemisphere trades with Cuba; drive down the 401 in Toronto and you’ll see Cuba SI! billboards for $699-a-week vacation packages.) Meanwhile los historicos on Calle Ocho in Miami still dream of returning to their beloved Havana and reclaiming their land, their business, and their 1959 Buick LeSabre – but not until Castro falls. Until then, no tiene nada de que ver con Cuba, and ten US presidents have followed along.

The EU has the right idea and the bargaining chips. The embargo has taken away any leverage the US might have in bringing democracy to Cuba, and the longer we maintain it, the further behind we’ll be when time and nature catch up with Fidel.