EU Policy Recommendations
In the first few months of 2008, Raúl Castro announced several economic and agricultural policy changes designed to eliminate “excessive regulations” and improve the overall efficiency of ’s economy. These ‘changes’ allow Cubans: to buy certain goods (cell phones, microwaves, computers, DVD players, and certain agricultural inputs) that have been largely unavailable or illegal in the past; to stay in previously restricted “foreigner only” hotels and resorts if they can pay for it in hard currency; to navigate the bureaucratic systems regulating land usage, filling prescriptions, acquiring housing deeds more simply; and lastly to no longer have to accept limits on what they can legally earn through wages. None of these decrees are far reaching enough to be considered major reforms, but they have increased speculation about whether or not more significant changes are on the way. At this point, this is far from certain.
The electoral process that resulted in Raúl Castro becoming ’s president was deeply flawed, undemocratic in nature, and designed to inhibit change. Every candidate for the National Assembly was nominated using a public process that neither allowed the use of secret ballots nor the presence of independent international election observers. This made it nearly impossible for anyone to support an opposition leader or to vote against the Cuban Communist Party’s nominees without facing potentially severe consequences. As expected, not a single one of the 614 nominated candidates lost, but then again no one ever has since they all run unopposed. And yet, it was this newly ‘elected’ National Assembly that officially chose Raúl Castro as ’s new head of state and supported his appointment of five vice presidents with a median age of 70.
Every decision and announcement Raúl has made since assuming power stresses that stability and continuity will be the priority, not making changes leading toward democratization and improving ’s human rights record. Even though Raúl’s first statement when he took office was that he would consult with Fidel on all major decisions, he knew that he had to take small steps that would allow him to emerge independently from underneath his brother’s long shadow. He was well aware that he needed to improve the performance of ’s economy, increase food production and buy enough time to firmly establish control over each sector of Cuban society. When looked at closely, these goals are exactly what the recent flurry of ‘reforms’ are designed to accomplish. It is important to remember that Raúl has accumulated a tremendous amount of power over the course of his brother’s reign as the head of the military and has gone to great lengths to ensure that he will have their continued support. (Considering the Cuban military directly controls over 60% of Cuba’s tourism, export/import, and agriculture sectors, these ‘changes’ could make his backers extremely happy.) Furthermore, we anticipate that Raúl will exploit his position as the head of the Non-Aligned Movement and build upon the gains that has made since the friendlier “Pink Tide” governments in , , and came into office over the last several years.
Raúl Castro’s government has shown no willingness to change its approach to ’s internal opposition or to heed international calls for implementing democratic reforms. Raúl has continued to detain and arrest members of the ’s independent civil society organizations, though mostly outside of Havana, but has been more careful to try and garner more positive press within the international media in order to splinter the regimes detractors in Europe and the . To that end, it is highly likely that a small percent of the political prisoners will be released in the near future by the regime as a symbolic gesture. However such a maneuver does not signal a change in attitude about human rights, the need for fair trials, or granting freedom to those who were wrongfully imprisoned by the regime, but is intended to shift the focus on human rights concerns into a “let’s wait and see what happens next” situation where the issue is largely dropped. The more time Raúl has to consolidate his authority over the island’s internal affairs the more likely he will be able to remain firmly in power. There is the possibility that Raúl Castro will be unable to maintain control over the pace of change much like Gorbachev in the late 1980s, but what is clear that he won’t let this happen without a fight.
In light of all this, the Europe Cuba NGO Network recommends that the EU not only keep its emphasis on the goals and spirit of the 1996 Common Position, but that the measures that were enacted in 2003 and provisionally suspended in 2005 remain until Cuba meets strictly defined benchmarks and the following conditions.
(1) The unconditional release of all political prisoners and respect for human rights.
The EU’s policy must hold the Cuban government accountable to the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which formally signed in February. Raul Castro has already stated publically that he will only honor the parts of these treaties that he considers “relevant.” The unconditional release of 55 of the 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in March 2003, as well as the other 200 or so political prisoners still incarcerated, should be a starting point for negotiations, not an end goal to justify a policy change. Likewise, a release of a small number of political prisoners should not be used as an excuse by other countries to pardon the original crimes of the Castro regime.
(2) The organizing of free and fair elections with the presence of international observers.
is the only government in the Western Hemisphere that has not embraced democracy and represses all forms of political dissent. The current regime should legalize other political parties and allow the Cuban people to vote for the representatives of their choosing without having to worry that it will land them in prison, cost them their livelihood or result in an act of repudiation. All of this should be done in the presence of international observers.
(3) The passage of reforms that allow greater civil liberties and the free flow of information in .
The Cuban government needs to implement reforms that guarantee the basic rights to expression, press and assembly by removing its strict controls over all forms of media. This should include free and unrestricted access to national and international news outlets, television, radio and the internet. The reforms must allow for the dissemination of information to be unrestricted both inside and outside of .
(4) The EU should support independent civil society and peaceful democratic opposition a) by providing funding for their projects and organizations; b) by providing them with access to the internet and/or any other independent source of information; c) by continuing to invite their members to official events; by promoting people-to-people contacts through targeted “social networking” programs
Until the Cuban government allows for civil society organizations and political parties to operate openly and freely the EU should support them with funding; access to information; training and capacity building; and symbolic gestures to dissidents and opposition leaders that assure them that their efforts are recognized, valued and valid. In addition, the Cuban government needs to recognize publically the legal right of civil society organizations to exist. Furthermore, the EU should commission an independent review of the EU delegation in Havana’s grant program aiming to support cultural exchange and the civil sector in order to check allegations that some projects have been canceled or not approved due to direct pressure from Cuban authorities. At the same time, the EU should develop a “social networking” component as an additional vehicle for supporting Cuba’s independent civil society that enables Cuban citizens and institutions (educational, cultural, scientific, youth, etc.) to participate in exchange programs with Europeans, and vice versa, under the condition that all Cuban citizens have the right to participate in that exchange. Freedom of movement and the importance of education are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights to which is a long standing signatory and must be held accountable.
(5) The acquired know-how and experiences of the EU member states that endured communism in the past and made transitions to democracy should be offered to
There are at least 10 EU member states that have made successful transitions to democracy from single party Communist states, whose experiences should be shared openly and honestly with . The EU should be using these experiences as a means of showing the Cubans the variety of ways in which these transformations have happened, what lessons have been learned and that can find its own way to do so for the betterment of its people.
(6) Any change is EU policy must be contingent on strict benchmarks and conditions being met by before the change is made
has recently stated that the suspended sanctions from 2003 are the main stumbling block for closer ties between the island and the EU, but this can hardly be taken at face value. is the only country in the Western Hemisphere with whom the EU hasn’t signed a bilateral cooperation agreement, and is the only ACP country that has not formally signed onto the Cotonou Agreement. It is no mere accident or case of discrimination that has led to Cuba being treated differently than so many other countries, rather is a direct result of the Castro regime’s attempts to get greater privileges without having to take steps towards democratization and improving Cuba’s human rights record. There is a pattern of détente and disengagement on behalf of the Cuban government that makes it reasonable for the EU to establish benchmarks and extraordinary conditionality clauses that would structure the negotiations on establishing normalized relations between the two sides. should be required to resubmit its application to the Cotonou Agreement, taking into consideration the clear human rights implications outlined in Article 96 as criteria for its acceptance. The suspended measures from 2003 should not be dropped until all 75 of the prisoners of conscience and political prisoners are released, since they have committed no crime other than peacefully advocating for the type of democratic changes that are supposed to serve as the cornerstone of all EU external relations.
Without Cuba agreeing to such steps, there is no legitimate reason for the EU to make a major policy change to its Common Position or to view the current events that have taken place there as any more than the latest example of the great lengths to which an authoritarian regime will go to maintain its grasp on power for as long as possible.
Asociacion Iberoamericana por la Libertad (Spain)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (United Kingdom)
Fundacion Hispano Cubana (Spain)
International Society for Human Rights (Germany)
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Germany)
KIC – Christian Democratic International Center (Sweden)
People in Need (Czech Republic)
People in Peril Association (Slovakia)
Pontis Foundation (Slovakia)
Solidaridad Española con Cuba (Spain)