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 organizations.
“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.
...We have let the Cuban people down, as they have the same right to freedom and democracy as everybody else.
Lars Adaktusson, Swedish member of the European Parliament
“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.
...We reject this accord because it is not contingent on the exercise of the individual and collective freedoms of the Cuban people.
Letter from opposition groups
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