Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Posted on Thu, Jun. 14, 2007
EU rejects Spanish proposal to ease sanctions against Cuba
By Pablo Bachelet
WASHINGTON - The 27-member European Union has rejected a Spanish proposal to ease EU sanctions against Cuba, drawing praise from a Cuban American lawmaker.
The EU agreement was reached Wednesday by the ambassadors to the bloc. A formal announcement is expected after the EU foreign ministers meet Monday.
But the door is not being slammed shut. Havana will be invited to send a delegation to Brussels to discuss democracy and other issues, according to media reports.
"I would like to thank Britain, the Czech Republic, and Sweden for siding with the oppressed Cuban people and openly objecting to normalization with the regime in Havana without first demanding return of democratic reforms and freedom for the Cuban people," U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Thursday.
Spain, an influential voice on Latin American issues in the EU, had been leading a campaign to overturn EU sanctions imposed on Cuba after a harsh crackdown on dissidents in 2003.
Under those sanctions, EU nations are barred from official high-level contact with Havana or providing aid to the island.
Under socialist President Jose Luis Zapatero, Spain secured an easing of those rules in 2005 and lobbied to have them lifted altogether, arguing that a new approach was needed for a post-Fidel Castro transition. Fidel Castro fell sick last July and has not appeared in public since.
The Czech Republic and other former communist states in the EU, with the backing of several other bloc members, opposed the Spanish position on Cuba.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also complained to Madrid about its Cuba stance at a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos earlier this month. Rice said she was concerned that closer ties with Cuba would send the message to Cuban dissidents that the world did not support their plight.
Moratinos made a surprise visit to Havana in April but declined to meet with dissidents. Cuba and Spain agreed to hold talks on human rights, but neither side said much after the first round of such talks in late May.