Monday, October 11, 2010

Spain leads charge to weaken EU's resolve

Posted on Monday, 10.11.10

Spain leads charge to weaken EU's resolve

The Council of the European Union will soon meet to evaluate its Common
Position on Cuba. Leading the charge to essentially abolish it is
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Since 1996, the EU has defined the key objective of its relations with
Cuba through a Common Position to ``encourage a process of transition to
pluralistic democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms . . .'' The Common Position seeks ``the reform of internal
legislation concerning political and civil rights, including the Cuban
criminal code, the abolition of all political offences, the release of
all political prisoners and the ending of the harassment and punishment
of dissidents.''

Given these specific goals, it is difficult to understand Foreign
Minister Moratinos' claim -- based apparently on the announcement that
the Cuban government will free and essentially deport 52 political
prisoners -- that ``there is no longer any reason for the EU to maintain
its common position toward Cuba.''

Moratinos has lowered the bar to a minimalist and reversible gesture
undertaken by the Cuban government. He has abandoned the Common
Position's declared objectives and, in doing so he appears to have
redefined unilaterally the goals of the EU Common Position for the
member states.

Moratinos may be working to protect the bilateral interests of Spain in
Cuba, but he is clearly undermining one of the main legal instruments of
the EU that defines the unified approach of the Union to a matter of
general interest. Spain's championing the abandonment of the Common
Position is particularly puzzling since its shared history and cultural
kinship with Cuba would suggest that Spain would carry the EU's flagship
message that ``full cooperation with Cuba will depend on improvements in
human rights and political freedoms,'' as stipulated by the European

There is little in the announced release of some political prisoners
that meets the criteria outlined in 1996 by the Common Position. Release
from unjust prison and deportations are not synonymous with political
freedoms, nor do they signal a process of transition to a pluralist
democracy and respect for human rights. As if to underscore this point
the Cuban government has continued to arrest, repress, harass and
intimidate members of the opposition and civil society even as it
releases some of the activists incarcerated during the Black Spring of 2003.

In contrast to Spain, other EU countries such as the Czech Republic,
Germany, Slovakia, Poland and Sweden remain skeptical of abandoning the
Common Position and are insisting that any future decisions regarding
Cuba be based on criteria that unambiguously define what can be
considered improvements in human rights and political freedoms.

Unrequited abandonment of the principled Common Position implies that EU
criticism aimed at violations of civil liberties and political rights in
Cuba will be muted and contacts with Cuban dissidents will tend to fade
away, demoralizing Cuba's internal opposition. It will also reward a
repressive government unwilling to undertake democratic reforms.
Symbolic as it may be, the EU's Common Position sends an important
message to Cuban citizens that they are not alone. It also provides the
Cuban government with a clear understanding of the EU's expectations.

Sadly, Moratinos categorical statement that ``there is no longer any
reason for the EU to maintain its common position towards Cuba''
necessarily means that Cuba has met the Spanish government's
human-rights expectations. The Foreign Minister seems to have forgotten
a seminal lesson from the Spanish transition -- indeed from all
transitions -- that transitions must be responsive to the interests and
aspirations of the citizenry. In a system that denies basic freedoms,
society is debilitated by a miasma of fear. For five decades fear has
been an integral part of the everyday Cuban existence. It is a fear the
must be conquered if any national transition project is to stand a
chance of success.

Along the lines of the Spanish transition, the perfect Cuban transition
is one that proceeds peacefully and lawfully; from law to law. It is one
in which the governing class itself decides to change the rules of the
game and open the political process calling for free, fair and
competitive elections. This is and should remain the ethical goal of the
European Union's Common Position and particularly of Cuba's mother country.

José Azel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of the
recently published book, Mañana in Cuba.

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