Europe should keep heat on Cuba
OUR OPINION: Island dictatorship still holds prisoners of conscience
Europe's ambivalence toward Cuba was on display again this week when
foreign ministers from a few countries tried and failed to ease the
European Union's sanctions against the Castro regime. If these friends
of Cuba don't know what's wrong with the island's 51-year-old
dictatorship, maybe they should just ask the European Parliament.
Last week, the European Union's legislative arm awarded the prestigious
Sakharov Prize to Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, whose 140-day
hunger strike forced the Cuban government to release political
prisoners, thus avoiding the embarrassment of having yet another
political prisoner die in protest against the dictatorship.
The award to Mr. Fariñas marks the third time in a decade that the E.U.
prize has gone to a Cuban -- Oswaldo Payá received it in 2002 and the
Ladies in White in 2005. That should make it clear to all but those who
are deliberately blind to the facts that Cuba's human rights situation
is scandalous and that the government is a repeat offender when it comes
to crimes against human liberty -- and has no intention of changing its
That didn't stop Spain and a few other benighted countries with false
notions of how the regime treats dissidents to try to put aside the
``Common Position'' that has governed the E.U.'s policy toward Cuba
since 1996. The policy ties improvement in Europe's relations with Cuba
to progress on human rights.
Spain reportedly led the charge in trying to do away with the Common
Position, with Italy, France and Ireland among those in agreement.
Sadly, and somewhat surprisingly, the effort came just a few days after
Spain's new foreign minister, Trinidad Jiménez, came on board.
Ms. Jiménez was considered a welcome change from her predecessor, Miguel
Angel Moratinos, who labored long and hard, ultimately without success,
to undermine the Common Position. According to reports from Luxemburg,
where the meeting of the 27 E.U. foreign ministers was held, she made an
impassioned plea for Europe to improve relations with Havana.
Fortunately, the majority of top diplomats from Europe's other countries
refused to go along. Perhaps they are aware that Europe would be accused
of foreign policy schizophrenia in giving a human rights prize to a
Cuban dissident one week and improving relations with Havana the next.
Ultimately, the E.U.'s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton of Britain, was
directed ``to explore ways to try and make progress'' in relations with
Cuba, according to news reports from the meeting, and report back in
Ms. Jiménez tried to portray this as a significant victory for those
seeking to soften Europe's common stance, but Sweden's foreign minister,
Carl Bildt, set her right. He said the Common Position will endure until
Europe sees significant changes on the human rights front in Cuba. We
won't hold our breath.
To make the case for Cuba, Spain's foreign ministers and like-minded
diplomats say Cuba's promise to release 52 political prisoners -- whose
crime consists of expressing dissent in peaceful ways -- should be seen
as a major step forward. Forty of them have already been released.
What they don't bother to say is that these prisoners should never have
been arrested in the first place. Or that after being released they were
summarily exiled along with their families. Or that the jails still
contain hundreds of political prisoners, who have no hope of freedom.
Every release of a blameless prisoner constitutes a victory for human
liberty. But these releases are no more than a self-serving gesture by
Cuba, an effort to use human beings as pawns in a cynical game of
Europe should maintain its common position until all political prisoners
are freed and peaceful dissent is allowed in Cuba. True freedom of
thought and expression will spell the end of the Castro brothers'
regime, though. That's why they will never let it happen.