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Assessment: Cuba
October 2008

Assessment: Cuba is published monthly by PRIMA-News in Moscow in cooperation with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, based in Washington, D.C.


The European Union Tells Cuba:

Let’s Be Friends, Come Hell or High Water


The European Union and
Cuba officially restored diplomatic relations on October 23, after a five-year suspension. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and EU Commissioner Louis Michel signed an agreement at a ceremony in Havana.

In the spring of 2003, the communist authorities arrested 75 prominent members of the peaceful opposition — dissidents, journalists, and activists in civic and political organizations. In protest, the EU imposed sanctions on the Castro regime. The EU measures were symbolic, not substantive. They included a freeze on visits by high-level European officials and inviting dissidents to national day celebrations at embassies of EU member states in
Havana. Two years later, the EU sanctions were suspended. On October 23, they were completely removed.

Why? Is there any sign of fundamental change in Cuba? The regime did not release all or even most of the 75 dissidents sentenced to lengthy terms of 13 to 28 years during Black Spring. The answer is more simple: the decision of Fidel Castro’s brother and successor, Raul, to allow ordinary Cubans to buy microwaves, home computers, and other electrical appliances and to allow Cubans to patronize hotels previously reserved for foreigners melted the hearts of EU member states and trumped any concern for political prisoners held in Cuba — well more than 200 overall. The Castro propaganda machinery and EU publicists made it look like significant progress and the start of serious political reforms! Fifty-five of the original 75 dissidents jailed in 2003 remain behind bars. But what significance can they have when the government allows unrestricted sale of microwaves!

Clearly, the EU should have been more coherent in its policy: it should have penalized the Cuban regime for its ban on the sale of consumer electronics to Cuba citizens, not for a crackdown on dissidents. Then EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner would not have had to assure everyone after the sanctions were lifted that the EU will continue to monitor human rights conditions in Cuba.

No matter how foolish the EU’s statements about its commitment to human rights may seem, this is no laughing matter for the Cuban people or especially Cuban dissidents. The restoration of relations between the EU and communist Cuba drew an immediate response by representatives of Cuba’s peaceful opposition, who said the visit of EU Commissioner Louis Michel to Cuba would allow Cuba to dictate its terms to the European Union. Oswaldo Payá stated that the renewal of relations is being done according to rules set by the Cuban government, which has taken no action to reverse the conditions that were the cause of the break in 2003. Manuel Cuesta Morúa of Arco Progresista stated that the dialogue had great positive significance as does aid provided by the EU. Nonetheless, he said it would have been better to hold meetings with the democratic opposition in Cuba.

Prominent dissident René Gómez Manzano wrote in a statement: “In recent times, we have noticed in the acts of the European Union a remarkably acquiescing attitude toward various dictatorial regimes that violate human rights, in particular toward the Castro brothers’ regime in
Cuba, which will soon be half a century old.” He continued, “If the present Cuban leadership were not ready to do so, and if the EU didn’t have the wisdom and the determination to firmly demand so, we all would be witnesses to one more noisy failure of the conciliatory policy kept by the European Union toward undemocratic regimes.”

On October 14, ten days before the formal renewal of relations between the EU and Cuba, the Cuban National Liberal Party issued a statement that the government signing in February of UN human rights pacts was only as “deceitful strategy.” It had no intention of implementing the provisions of the two pacts, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The statement said it was simply an attempt to court international public opinion  and to lend legitimacy to the new president. When, on August 7, the group asked Cuba’s National Assembly (parliament) to publicize the contents of the UN agreements and foster a national debate on them, there was no answer. This fact, the document concluded, points to the paralysis of the political will of Cuba’s rulers and the lack of interest in honoring its international legal obligations.

However, Western governments wouldn’t listen to dissidents’ warnings when making their political decisions.

The EU also turns a deaf ear on those in
Europe and Latin America who criticize the communist regime in Cuba. Participants in the Twelfth Annual Forum 2000 Conference held in the Czech Republic noted there has been no significant change in Cuba since Raul Castro took over the country’s presidency. The Forum 2000 has held an annual conference since 1997 under the auspices of former Czech President Václav Havel. Over the years, these annual gatherings have attracted various personalities from all over the world to discuss global issues. This year, the event was attended by the exiled Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner.

Catalina Botero Marino, the newly appointed OAS Special Raporteur for Freedom of Expression, told Radio Martí that the government of
Cuba prevents its citizens from exercising their fundamental rights. Botero Marino, a former justice on the Constitutional Court of Colombia, is responsible for protecting and promoting freedom of thought and expression in the region.

The futility of efforts undertaken by Cuban dissidents and their supporters to drum up support for
Cuba in Europe has sad consequences. The ruling Castro brothers remain convinced that Europe’s alleged solidarity with dissidents in Cuba is a myth and that the only relevant reality is Europe’s wish, against any obstacles, to be friends with the Castro regime. Reveling in this knowledge, Cuban communists act accordingly. They feel free to do whatever they choose.

So, at the end of September, Rodolfo Ramírez, head of the peaceful opposition group Movimiento Línea Pacífica Democrática Corriente Martiana, was detained in Havana. “Rodolfo was detained by State Security agents to prevent him from attending a Prayer for National Unity to be held that day in a church in Santiago de Las Vegas, in Boyeros municipality, in Havana,” said Moisés Leonardo Rodríguez Valdés, a fellow dissident. “Oppositionists intended to stage a brief demonstration after the mass, and that, certainly, was the reason for his arrest,” he added.  

Early in October, two Cuban rights activists were detained in the city of Camagüey as they were taking part in a solemn vigil as part of the ongoing campaign for the release of political prisoners.

According to the independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, two members of the Julio Tang Texier Cultural Civic Project, Orestes Martínez Pérez and Ricardo Martínez Betancourt, were taken to a police station and held there for two hours. Agents of the Cuban political police questioned, threatened, and humiliated them.

Miguel Santana Breffe, a representative of the Cuban National Liberal Party in Antilla municipality, Holguín province, was detained, fined, and threatened with imprisonment if he continued his opposition activities and the promotion of human rights in
Cuba. Santana Breffe was detained as he was talking to victims of Hurricane Ike. He was taken to a police station and held there for two hours.

According to a source on the Isle of Youth, oppositionist Lázaro Ricardo Pérez García was also threatened with jail for sending abroad information about the situation in the country after the wrath of Hurricane Ike and for his opposition activities generally. 

In mid October, representatives of the political opposition in
Cuba reported a new wave of government repression in the eastern regions of the island. They referred to arrests and other sanctions in recent weeks in response to alleged “calls to criminal behavior” after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Several human rights activists have been threatened with imprisonment for reporting abuses of the public by the authorities and discrimination in the provision of humanitarian aid to victims of the natural disaster.

Emboldened by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, Cuban authorities behave unscrupulously and malevolently toward foreigners, including citizens of Spain, whose Socialist Party government has led efforts to foster closer ties between the EU and Cuba.

On October 6, Cuban authorities detained
Gracia Regojo Bacardí, a Spanish aid worker associated with a Church group, the CUME Humanitarian Foundation, who arrived in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to help Cuba’s storm victims resettle. Soon after, she was deported from Cuba. The Spanish group Cuba in Transition said Gracia Regojo Bacardí was just the latest among a total of at least twelve workers from international non-governmental organizations who had been questioned and expelled from the island by Cuban authorities. They were ordered to leave the country for doing humanitarian work without the Cuban government’s permission, reported Cuba in Transition.

The Community of Madrid has denounced the Cuban government for banishing Spanish aid worker Gracia Regojo Bacardí from the island and demanded that
Spain respond accordingly. Javier Fernández Lasquetty, Counselor on Immigration and Cooperation of the Community of Madrid, met with Mrs. Regojo Bacardí on October 15. He expressed regret that the Spanish government, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, decided to give 400 million euro to aid Cuba in spite of this incident. Fernández-Lasquetty recalled that the government promised to take appropriate measures against the expulsion of the employee of the CUME Humanitarian Foundation, but decided instead to give Cuba more money to prop up Castro’s policy of tyranny. The Spanish official expressed doubt the money would ever reach the Cuban people, saying the money is not meant for the needy. Fernández-Lasquetty said he felt ashamed that Zapatero has taken the money from Spaniards and thrown it away to aid a dictatorship that has been silencing and jailing dissenters for 50 years. 


Alexander Podrabinek

Moscow, October 2008

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