Agreement between Cuba and EU criticized as soft on human rights

Agreement between Cuba and EU criticized as soft on human rights

A new agreement of cooperation and political dialogue between the Cuban
government and the European Union has come under intense attack by
European parliament members, Cuban dissidents and human rights

“The EU should have asked for an end to the repression of political
dissidents and a democratic reform before signing an accord like this
one,” said Lars Adaktusson, a Swedish member of the European Parliament
from the christian-democratic European People’s Party.

The new agreement abolishes the EU’s so-called Common Position, which
was adopted in 1996 under strong pressure from Spanish Prime Minister
José María Aznar and which clearly established that EU relations with
Cuba had the goal of “favoring a process of transition toward a
pluralist democracy.”

Instead, the new accord establishes a dialogue on human rights but no
specific conditions are required to be met, similar to the normalization
process advanced by the United States. It is seen as another diplomatic
victory for the Cuban government.

The agreement “will be applied according to ‘constitutional principles,’
which in the Cuban case means according to the principles of a Communist
dictatorship,” Adaktusson told el Nuevo Herald. “By doing this, we have
let the Cuban people down, as they have the same right to freedom and
democracy as everybody else.”

Adaktusson, a journalist turned politician, said he was not happy with
the lack of transparency during the negotiations for the agreement,
adding that Cuba’s civil society was “pushed aside” during the talks.

“I believe that an EU-Cuba cooperation agreement may open new space for
improved relations, but the European Union must keep human rights and
fundamental freedoms at the core of this agreement,” said Pavel Telicka,
a Czech Euro parliament member and second vice president of the Alliance
of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

“A substantial improvement must be a precondition in the talks with the
Cuban government and for any economic concessions from the EU side,”
Telicka added.

The new accord was also criticized by international human rights groups
and Cuban opposition activists on the island and abroad.

Thirty Cuban opposition groups sent a letter to the EU attacking the
accord, signed Monday in Brussels by the Cuban government and foreign
ministers from EU member nations.

“We are not opposed to an accord between our country and the European
Union that benefits our people, but we reject this accord because it is
not contingent on the exercise of the individual and collective freedoms
of the Cuban people,” said the letter, adding that there’s been a
notable increase in repression in recent months.

The letter, sent to Federica Mogherini, vice president of the European
Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy, urged that the ratification of the accord by the European and
national parliaments be linked to a string of measures: an end to
political repression, free elections and the ratification of
international agreements on human rights, among others.

A source from the European Commission, who asked not be named, said that
“Human rights have always been and will remain at the core of EU
relations with Cuba.” But the negotiations were “primarily an
intergovernmental dialogue,” the source said.

“The competent EU services maintain regular contact with members of
Cuban civil society and the dissidence, both at headquarters and
delegation level, so as to be fully aware of concerns and expectations
of all sectors of Cuban society,” the source added.

Telicka, who met in Miami with the signers of the letter, also urged the
EU diplomacy “to recognize that there is a political opposition to the
(Cuban) government — not just human rights activists — and to stay in
contact with that opposition and listen to its voices before ratifying
and implementing this accord.”

Among the people Telicka met with was activist Guillermo Fariñas, winner
of the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize, named after famed
Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

Civil Rights Defenders, an organization based in Sweden and formerly
known as the Helsinki Committee, published a scathing report last week
comparing the negotiations with Cuba to negotiations with Central
American governments. It concluded that the EU demands on democracy and
human rights “are much higher for formally democratic countries than for
authoritarian governments like Cuba.”

The report noted that the increase in repression started in March, just
after the EU-Cuba negotiations concluded and President Barack Obama
visited the island — evidence of the “Cuban government’s smugness over
its ability to establish new relations with the international community
without having to change its political system.”

Cuba’s civil society did not participate in the negotiations at any
time, the report added.

“There’s been no official meeting with members of Cuban civil society,
only informal encounters. That is unacceptable,” said Erik Jennische,
Latin America program director for Civil Rights Defenders.

Cuban opposition and human rights activists have been unable to halt
their government’s progress in the diplomatic arena, first with the
United States and then with the EU, which have established separate
talks with Cuba on human rights to avoid blocking movement on the
broader front.

U.S. and EU officials appear to be competing to position themselves for
an eventual transition on the island, Jennische said. “The U.S. and
Europe could have cooperated and developed a common position, but they
didn’t and opted to compete,” he said.

After signing the accord, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno R. Rodríguez
declared that the island’s economic links to Europe “would continue to
be … a priority.”

The attacks on the accord, however, are not likely to derail it,
according to several European sources. The agreement cannot be altered,
and can only be endorsed or rejected by the European Parliament.

“Strong forces have put a lot of their prestige behind the accord, so
the chances that it would be rejected are small,” Adaktusson said.
“Personally, I would like to suspend it until the Cuban government has
freed all political prisoners and implemented all the international
agreements on human rights.”

Jennische said his organization’s report nevertheless included
recommendations for promoting human rights even if the accord is
endorsed by the European parliament.

“If it happens, we have to accept reality,” he said. “There are many
ways to use the accord in a positive manner, for example establishing a
continuous dialogue with Cuban civil society during its implementation,
and inviting independent journalists to participate in news conferences
(by EU officials in Cuba), which has never happened.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Source: Agreement between Cuba and EU criticized as soft of human rights
| Miami Herald –

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