Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Spain's Socialist government fails dissidents

Spain's Socialist government fails dissidents
Prime Minister Zapatero's socialist party forgoes the quest for human
rights and embraces non-democratic governments such as Cuba.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
By Aaron Hanscom

The Prague Democracy & Security Conference held on 5-6 June was
organized by human rights activist and political leader Natan Sharansky,
former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel and former prime
minister of Spain José María Aznar. Designed to explore the linkage
between the promotion of democracy and the strengthening of security,
the conference gathered together activists and dissidents from around
the world.

Aznar's welcoming remarks set the tone for the two-day meeting:

"A year ago when we first talked about this meeting, I could not
imagine that we were able, as I see today, to put together such an
impressive group of people. We did not want to hold just another
conference, seminar or meeting. That's why our emphasis in having
drivers of change, dissidents actively involved in this gathering.

"Freedom as you all know is not for free. It has to be nurtured and
defended. And we all must thank those who risk their lives or well-being
for doing it against regimes that are intolerant or fanatical
dictatorships. From China to Cuba, from Iran to Venezuela.

"Keeping the flame of freedom in those places is the responsibility
of dissidents, but it is also our responsibility. We must ensure that we
don't fail them, that the liberal democracies do not fail them."

The irony is that Spain's socialist government has clearly failed the
dissidents whom it has the greatest power to help: those struggling
bravely against Cuba's communist regime. Indeed, most of the 10 points
found in the Prague Charter (which was adopted by the conference
participants) seem to be at odds with the world view of Prime Minister
José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero's Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido
Socialista Obrero Español – PSOE). Specifically, the PSOE does not seem
to grasp the importance of "raising the questions of human rights in all
meetings with officials of non-democratic regimes" or "instructing
diplomatic emissaries to non-democratic countries to actively and openly
seek out meetings with political prisoners and dissidents committed to
building free societies through non-violence."

Spain established full cooperation with Cuba when Foreign Minister
Miguel Ángel Moratinos traveled to the island in April of this year. It
was the first visit by an EU foreign minister since 2003, when the EU
imposed sanctions on Cuba following the executions of three young Cubans
who tried to escape the island and the sentencing of 75 dissidents to
long prison terms. While Moratinos and his Cuban counterpart Felipe
Pérez Roque agreed to explore regular bilateral talks on all political
issues including human rights, Moratinos did not talk with any
dissidents during his three-day visit. Moreover, the joint communiqué
issued after the first of these talks on human rights did not mention
political prisoners or ways to improve human rights.

Most Cuban dissidents, so upset with Moratinos' snub, refused a
subsequent invitation by the Spanish Embassy to meet with them. The
Associated Press quoted former political prisoner Vladimiro Roca, who
said, "Moratinos' visit was a lack of respect, he came to support the
tyranny." The Ladies in White, an organization made up of wives and
mothers of political prisoners, and Oscar Espinosa Chepe (one of the 75
arrested dissidents) also did not attend the embassy gathering.

There is sufficient reason to doubt any assurances by the PSOE that the
party is concerned about human rights in Cuba. While the Czech Republic
leads a group of nations in the EU warning against warmer relations with
Havana, Zapatero has been pushing for engagement since his election
victory in 2004. In October of that year, the Socialist government
declared that the EU's sanctions against Cuba were "ineffective." It
also proposed ending the "symbolic" contacts with Cuban dissidents,
presumably so there would be more time for meeting with the government
officials who are responsible for the imprisonment of over 300 people
found guilty of being "mercenaries" of the US.

Indeed, the PSOE often seems to share the belief that the greatest
menace to the peace and stability of the world - and to Spain's economic
interests - is the US. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs,
Zapatero's restoration of the Latin American relationship "has become
known as the 'second colonization' of South America, and is largely
based around economic engagement." Just as Zapatero was willing to
dismiss objections by the United States to sign an arms deal with
Venezuela in 2005, he has openly defied the EU's support of America's
position on Cuba.

Thus, it was not surprising when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
used her June visit to Madrid to criticize the Socialist government's
cozying up to Castro's regime. After meeting Moratinos, Rice - who is
the highest-level US official to visit Spain since Zapatero's election
victory - said, "I have real doubts about the value of engagement with a
regime that is anti-democratic, and that appears to me to be trying to
arrange a transition from one anti-democratic regime to another
anti-democratic regime." Rice also expressed concern that the Cuban
dissidents "get the right message, which is that the free world stands
with them and is not prepared to tolerate an anti-democratic transition
in Cuba."

The Socialists of course deny that they are promoting a non-democratic
succession in Cuba, claiming that engagement is the best policy. Fair
enough. But it is possible to support engagement and dissidents at the
same time. Furthermore, why isn't engagement the policy of choice for
the Socialists when it comes to dealing with the US?

Even before Zapatero pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq in 2004, he and
his party had revealed their antipathy toward the United States. During
Spain's 2003 national holiday parade, opposition leader Zapatero refused
to stand up in respect when the American flag was passing by the stand
where he was watching the event. When asked to explain his action he
said, "Why should I stand up? It was not my flag." The following year
the United States was not invited to the parade, but Cuba and Venezuela
were asked to participate. Meanwhile in a 2004 op-ed, Moratinos wrote,
"Based on an extravagant and weak strategic design, the American
military machine and her stooges entered the Iraqi wasps' nest like a
bull in a china shop." This negative view of America was reinforced by
Spanish Defense Minister José Antonio Alonso right before Rice's visit
to the country. Alonso accused the United States of "indiscriminate
bombardment" in Afghanistan, which he said "didn't win the hearts and
minds of the Afghan people."

Zapatero is one the very few EU leaders not to have been invited to the
White House. If the prime minister really wanted to meet Bush face to
face he could have found him this month at the Prague Conference, where
Bush joined his friend Aznar in promoting liberty. But as Zapatero has
shown with his policies toward Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela (and with his
continued hostility to all things American), liberty and freedom are the
last things in the world he'd stand up for.

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