Dissidents want EU to keep up pressure on Cuba

June 18th, 2008 - 12:28 pm ICT by IANS  


Havana, June 18 (IANS) Cuban dissidents have called on the European Union (EU) not to definitively end its diplomatic measures imposed on the island’s communist government in 2003, EFE news agency reported Wednesday. “I’m glued to the radio to see what happens, and intrigued,” said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, one of the 75 government opponents whose jailing in Spring 2003 prompted the EU to impose sanctions on the communist country.

While Espinosa and 19 others - one of whom later died - have been released on medical grounds, 55 of the group of dissidents popularly known as “Group of 75″ still remain behind bars.

The foreign ministers of the EU are to discuss Thursday the issue whether to lift the sanctions imposed against Cuba in 2003, but suspended two years later. The meeting was originally scheduled Monday, but was postponed by three days.

The issue seems to have divided the EU leaders as a majority of member countries headed by Spain want the 27-member bloc lift the sanctions while some other want the sanctions to remain, saying the communist government has not adopted concrete reforms ensuring human rights protection, and freedom of speech and expression.

Speaking about EU’s ties with Cuba, Espinosa told EFE that the postponement of meeting on Cuba was evidence of the “controversy” that exists within the EU over the possibility of lifting the measures.

“I’m in favour of improving relations with the Cuban government, they should encourage the possible reforms (in progress) … but not at the cost of throwing out a series of accords. The government has not released anyone. It hasn’t given real signs of change,” he noted.

Espinosa said that the lifting of the sanctions could become a victory for the most hardline elements in the Cuban government.

Martha Beatriz Roque, the head of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba, also criticised Spain for its effort to get the EU sanctions on Cuba revoked.

“Spain can’t do that because there are ex-socialist countries that know what this totalitarianism is,” said Roque, the only woman among the Group of 75 and who was released from prison for health reasons.

“I don’t know what the result is going to be, but I can certainly say that the postponement indicates that there is no consensus,” she said, emphasizing that “if anyone needs to change, it’s the Cuban government and not the European Union.”

Cuban President Raul Castro, who succeeded ailing older brother Fidel in February, has indicated he wants to reform the island’s creaking economy without loosening the Communist Party’s grip on power.

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