Cuba's 'best friends forever' ignore human rights
Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Spain among countries damned by
diplomat for 'kowtowing' in hope of trade favours
* Rory Carroll
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 17 December 2010 21.30 GMT
Australia, Canada and several European countries have stopped pressuring
Cuba over human rights in the hope of winning commercial favours from
Havana, according to confidential US diplomatic cables released by
The western governments continued to pay lip service to concerns about
political prisoners and censorship, but in reality were appeasing the
island's communist rulers, said Jonathan Farrar, the US head of mission.
The diplomat made scathing remarks about his colleagues shunning
democracy activists, "kowtowing" to the Castro regime and joining what
he scornfully termed the "best friends forever" camp.
"The Cuban government has been able to stonewall its independent civil
society from foreign visitors who have, for the large part, been all too
ready to give in to Cuban bullying and give up on these encounters,"
He named and shamed the countries Washington considers offenders in its
battle, started half a century ago by JFK, to keep an international
squeeze on the island.
"The Australian foreign minister, Switzerland's human rights special
envoy and the Canadian cabinet level minister of the Americas not only
failed to meet with non-government Cubans, they didn't even bother to
publicly call for more freedoms after visiting Cuba in November," Farrar
Canada had softened its position over the past year, he said, with newly
arrived diplomats minimising civil society contacts. "Promoting
democracy may play well in political circles in Ottawa but the Canadian
government appears to have decided that doing anything serious about it
in Cuba under the current regime could jeopardise the advancement of
Canada's other interests."
He railed against the European commission for sitting "snugly in the
best friends forever" camp and siding with Spain – which seeks warmer
ties with Havana – against more hawkish EU members. "Their functionaries
share with us their reproach of the 'radical' Swedes and Czechs, with
their human rights priorities, and can't wait for 'moderate' Spain to
take over the EU presidency."
The US envoy mocked those who claimed to push for human rights in
private meetings with Cuban officials. "The truth is that most of these
countries do not press the issue at all in Cuba. The GOC [government of
Cuba] … deploys considerable resources to bluff and bully many missions
and their visitors into silence."
The criticised governments are likely to reject the memo as an example
of sour grapes from a country that has seen its Caribbean foe embraced
by Africa, Latin America, Asia and increasingly the west. Even
Washington's allies consider its embargo a cold war anachronism.
"Demented," as one European ambassador put it.
Cuba's opposition is small, fractious and powerless – split between
groups who favour hardline US policy and those who think the softer
approach of other governments will do more to open up the island.
The confidential US memo said the Castro government was determined to
drive a wedge into the EU's common policy on Cuba, which in theory
obliges member states to lobby hard for human rights. Britain is among
countries that refuse to send a minister to Havana without concessions.
Farrar approvingly categorised this as the "take your visit and shove
it" approach. "Germany, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom may
pay a price in terms of lost business and access from their principled
stance. Others who stand in this camp have less to lose from sticking it
to the Cubans, and include Poland and Sweden."
There is no mention of William Hague, the then British shadow foreign
secretary, and Lord Ashcroft meeting senior Cuban officials in Havana
last year. The pair did not meet democracy activists, but since taking
office Hague has promised to continue the British policy of not sending
Farrar said those foreign delegations that shunned civil society
activists and avoided mention of political prisoners reaped few
dividends. "For the most part the rewards for acquiescing to GOC demands
are risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and, for the most pliant, a
photo op with one of the Castro brothers. In terms of substance or
economic benefits they fare little better than those who stand up to the
In a separate cable, Arnold Chacon, the American charge d'affaires in
Spain, noted Croatia's effort to placate the US by playing down the
importance of a trumpeted visit to Havana last year by Stjepan Mesić,
Croatia's president at the time. Croatia's ambassador assured the US
envoy that the trip had "zero value" and that the visitors were in fact
"embarrassed" by the red carpet treatment.