Thursday, October 25, 2007

Europe Split Over Cuba

Europe Split Over Cuba
Patrick Goodenough
International Editor

( - President Bush's speech on Cuba Wednesday will have
particular resonance in Europe, where a battle between competing views
on how to deal with the Castro regime has intensified in recent years.

The sharpest divisions are evident between socialist-ruled Spain and the
formerly communist countries of Central Europe, where sympathy for Cuban
dissidents runs deep in official and non-governmental circles alike.

In his speech at the State Department, the president said the U.S. would
maintain its policy of isolating Havana and called for international
support. "Now is the time for the world to put aside its differences and
prepare for Cuba's transition to a future of freedom and progress and
promise," he said.
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Bush singled out the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, praising their
"support and encouragement to Cuba's brave democratic opposition" and
urged other countries to follow their example.

In 2003, the European Union (E.U.), prompted by Spain -- Cuba's 19th
century colonial ruler -- imposed diplomatic sanctions after the regime
arrested 75 prominent dissidents, put them on trial and sentenced them
to lengthy prison terms.

The E.U. also agreed to support Cuban dissidents by inviting them to
functions at E.U. member states' diplomatic missions in Havana.
President Fidel Castro in turn froze ties with the embassies.

Among the most enthusiastic supporters of the sanctions were the former
Warsaw Pact countries who joined the E.U. in 2004.

But E.U. consensus quickly crumbled. Spain's conservative government was
replaced by a socialist one under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero, who spearheaded efforts to repair the severed ties with Cuba.

The sanctions were eased in January 2005, and Zapatero also pushed for
E.U. member states to stop inviting dissidents to their embassy
receptions, arguing that this would help to ease tensions further.

The Czech government put its foot down, calling the proposal
"unacceptable." Former President Vaclav Havel -- himself a former
dissident -- accused the E.U. of "dancing to Fidel Castro's tune" and
slammed "the idea that evil must be appeased."

Prague threatened to use a veto in the E.U.'s Council of Foreign
Ministers, where policy decisions must be agreed upon unanimously. The
Spanish proposal failed.

Zapatero has not given up, however, and his government continues to urge
the E.U. to draw a distinction between political dialogue with Cuba and
the issue of human rights.

Last April, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos became the
first E.U. foreign minister to visit Havana since the events of 2003.

He met with Cuban authorities but not with dissidents, prompting the
U.S. human rights watchdog Freedom House to say the decision "sent an
unfortunate - if unintended - message that issues of human rights are
not a top priority in Spanish foreign policy."

During a brief visit to Madrid two months later, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice brought up the issue.

"Democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, meaning to
support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that they
can transition from one dictatorship to another," she told reporters
accompanying her, referring to the ailing Castro's handover of power to
his brother, Raul, in mid-2006.

In a joint press appearance with Moratinos, the differences were again
evident. Rice said she had made it clear in her talks "that I have real
doubts about the value of engagement with a regime that is anti-democratic."

"People who are struggling for a democratic future need to know that
they are supported by those of us who are lucky enough to be free," she

Moratinos responded, "I'm sure that after some time goes by, [Rice] will
probably be more convinced that the Spanish approach ... can have its

In a briefing Wednesday on the administration's Cuba policy, Commerce
Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Bush is challenging the international
community to speak up in favor of democracy and human rights in Cuba.

"The question is: Where is the outrage?," he said. "We've heard of the
outrage about Burma. And you know the things happening in Cuba have been
going on for a lot longer and more intensely than Burma. Where is the

Soeren Kern, senior fellow in transatlantic relations at the Strategic
Studies Group in Madrid, wrote last July that Spain's stance on Cuba
appears to be driven by hopes of finding oil off the Cuban coast,
"nostalgia-based anti-Americanism," and a shift away from a
"long-standing Atlanticist foreign policy to one focused almost
exclusively on Europe."

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