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Friday, 28 December 2012

Europe is to start talking with Cuba, but will it DO anything?

The European Union is preparing to start talking soon to Cuba about a new relationship,but it will take one and a half years to arrive at an agreement, according to this report in the Havana Times. While talks go on the EU's Common Position on Cuba will remain in force. This 'position' which critics say is neither a position or common, is what prevents Brussels from engaging positively with Cuba and was adopted in 1996 following the passage of the Helms Burton Act in the United States. It ties increased cooperation with Cuba to 'improvements in human rights' and states that the objective of the EU is to encourage a 'pluralist democracy' in Cuba. Both ideas are anathema to the government in Havana who see this as illegal interference in their internal affairs.
Consequently, in Cuba, as the cartoon above illustrates, the Common Position is seen as having been dictated to the EU by Washington, an assumption for which there is ample evidence given that Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar was reported by the newspaper El Pais to have received instructions from a US envoy to introduce the measures back in 1996.
Given the huge steps being taken in Cuba to introduce the market into domestic production and exchange, with the plan to have 35 per cent of the workforce in the private sector by 2015, one would have thought that the EU would wish to change its policy more quickly in order to encourage Cuba along the path towards a free market and 'pluralist democracy'.
Such a change is long overdue. Indeed, it is because of the Common Position, that Cuba is the only country in the Americas, from Canada to Argentina, with which the European Union does not have a bilateral commercial agreement. However, according to reports by Amnesty International, Cuba is far from being the worst one in the hemisphere in terms of violations of fundamental human rights. The Common Position is also ineffective because it has not had any influence on the decisions taken by Havana and has led to a freeze in bilateral relations. Finally, it is shamefully hypocritical because many countries in the EU- particularly those who oppose normalization with Cuba such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and, yes, the good old UK- have, according to Amnesty International, a human rights situation that is worse than Cuba.
Someone once said that there were three reasons to change a policy: if it was illegal, if it was immoral and if it didn't work. The Common Position seems to fit all three.  

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