Thursday, March 18, 2010



March 18, 2010.- Today, on the seventh anniversary of Cuba's „Black
Spring" the Europe-Cuba NGO Network calls on all EU Institutions to
increase their attention to issues of human rights and democracy on the
island and to utilize all appropriate measures to support Cuban civil
society efforts aimed at expanding the rights and freedoms of ordinary
Seven years ago, on March 18, 2003, the Cuban government moved swiftly
and ruthlessly to crush political dissent and activism on the island.
The two-day crackdown that has become widely known as the Black Spring
resulted in the imprisonment of 75 dissidents, among them journalists,
labour activists, independent librarians, and writers. Those arrested
received long prison sentences, some up to 28 years. Today, 52 of them
remain imprisoned and in total over 200 people are in prison for
political reasons, despite repeated calls for their release by the
international community.
Cuba's human rights situation has not improved in any discernable way
since 2003. People are still harassed, persecuted, and often jailed for
voicing their dissent and ordinary Cubans still do not enjoy even the
limited freedoms accorded to them under their own Constitution. While
Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights (ICESCR) to great fanfare in 2008, both treaties are yet to be
ratified by the Cuban parliament.
As a recent report by Human Rights Watch has noted: "Rather than
dismantle the state's repressive machinery, Raúl Castro has kept it
firmly in place and fully active. Scores of political prisoners arrested
under Fidel Castro continue to languish in Cuba's prisons. And Raúl
Castro's government has used draconian laws and sham trials to
incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental
Yet despite the unyielding repression of the regime, last year the EU
decided to lift the measures that it imposed in the wake of the "Black
Spring" crackdown, hoping that such a gesture of goodwill could pave the
way for a constructive dialogue with the Cuban government. However,
these hopes have been dashed: Cuba continues to show complete disregard
for calls by the international community to improve its human rights
record – and specifically to release all political prisoners – and has
repeatedly refused to substantially address such concerns during
discussions with EU representatives under the EU-Cuba political dialogue
Less than a year after the EU's decision on June 23rd 2008 to lift the
diplomatic sanctions adopted in 2003, well-known dissident Dársi Ferrer
was arrested by Cuban police and has been held since without charges,
despite repeated calls by diplomats for his release. Another lamentable
example for the Cuban government's brutal treatment of political
dissidents is the recent death of Orlando Zapato Tamayo, one of the 75
political prisoners of the Black Cuban Spring. Orlando died after an
80-day hunger strike, protesting the inhumane conditions of his
It is clear that the Cuban government doesn't feel in any way obligated
by the process of political dialogue with the EU to improve its
treatment of political dissidents and civil society activists The
hoped-for leverage from engagement advocated by some EU member states
sadly has not materialized.
In 2010, under the Spanish EU presidency, it is likely that the EU's
relationship with Cuba will receive added attention. This should not
lead to further appeasement of the Cuban government by the EU. Rather,
it must be ensured that this attention adequately serves the interest of
the Cuban people, not solely that of the regime, which is keen to
improve its relationship with the EU without making any concession
regarding its repressive tactics to muzzle opponents and activists.
Specifically, we strongly urge the European Union Delegation in Havana
to upgrade its contacts with human rights defenders and to find
practical ways to coordinate regular monitoring of political prisoners
in critical health conditions, establish regular contacts with Damas de
Blanco, and to provide humanitarian help to families of political
prisoners outside of Havana
While engaging in dialogue with the Cuban government, the EU must remain
true to its basic values and must do everything in its power to press
for the release of political prisoners and to support independent civil
society, both politically and materially.
In this respect, the European Parliament's resolution on March 11 is a
welcome sign of increased willingness to hold the Cuban regime to
account on its systematic and grave violations of human and political
rights. The Europe-Cuba NGO Network strongly supports the call by the
European Parliament to the Council and the Commission to step up their
actions to demand the release of political prisoners and safeguard the
work of human rights defenders and to give their unconditional support
and full encouragement to the launching of a peaceful process of
political transition to multi-party democracy in Cuba.
The Europe-Cuba NGO network encourages the Parliament to continue to
play a constructive and leading role in focusing attention on the plight
of political activists and dissidents in Cuba. The Europe-Cuba NGO
network also calls on the Parliament to actively press the European
Commission to increase the amount of resources dedicated to support
activists in their struggle to improve the state of human and political
rights in Cuba.
More specifically, the network strongly supports the recent suggestion
by Heidi Hautala, Chair of the European Parliament's Human Rights
Subcommittee, to establish an all-party working group on Cuba within the
European Parliament. We are convinced that such a working group,
consisting of MEPs from all parliamentary groups, should play a vital
role in the future development of the EU – Cuba policy, ensuring that it
is aligned with the basic values of democracy and human rights and that
it delivers real and tangible benefits to ordinary Cubans. The network
would be keen to lend its resources to such a working group and assist
its efforts to provide more accurate information on the current state of
human rights and democracy on the island and to advise on ways that EU
could become more effective in contributing to their improvement.

This statement has been endorsed by the following organisations:
People in Need, Czech Republic
Freedom House Europe, Hungary
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, United Kingdom and Belgium
Christian Democratic International Centre, Sweden
Nadacia Pontis/Pontis Foundation, Slovakia
Freedom and Democracy Foundation, Poland
Solidaridad Espanola Con Cuba, Spain
Fundación Hispano Cubana, Spain
Unitas Foundation, Estonia,
International Society for Human Rights, Germany
Cuba Futuro, Netherlands
Lech Walesa Institute, Poland

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