Friday, March 17, 2006

Regime Change in Cuba�the European Perspective

March 2005

Regime Change in Cuba�the European Perspective

Tomas Pojar, Frank Calzon,
Arlette Conzemius, Radek Sikorski,
Maria C. Werlau, Mark Falcoff,
Juan Jose Buitrago de Benito

At the end of January, the Council of the European Union (the main decision-making body of the European Union) suspended diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and decided to resume high-level relations with the Castro government, thus ending its policy to speak only with Cuban dissidents. Are these changes helping or weakening the Cuban regime? What is the EU�s purpose in changing its policies? Does the new policy conflict with the EU�s commitment to human rights and democracy abroad? On March 17, the New Atlantic Initiative organized a discussion to analyze the EU�s new policy towards Cuba. NAI executive director Radek Sikorski, who just returned from Cuba, moderated.

Arlette Conzemius
Ambassador of Luxembourg, representing the presidency of the European Union
The European Union is fostering a constructive dialogue with Cuba in order to promote respect for human rights. In 2003, when seventy-five dissidents where imprisoned, the European Union decided to suspend high-level governmental visits. When some of the prisoners were released, the EU decided to resume high-level visits and intensify contacts with the Cuban dissidents. The EU also resolved the sensitive issue of whom to invite to EU member-state embassies on their national holidays: neither the dissidents nor Cuban government officials will now be invited. This policy will be reviewed by the EU�s ministers of foreign affairs before the summer.

Juan Jose Buitrago de Benito
Political Counselor, Embassy of Spain
European policy towards Cuba aims at improving the human rights situation there, not at changing Cuba�s political system. During the Cold War, Western Europe applied the same approach toward Eastern Europe and Latin America, and it worked. Today, many Western democracies dialogue with worse regimes than Cuba. It is necessary for the EU to provide Cuba with the proper incentives to ensure a peaceful transition in the future. Transitions in poorer countries are often more violent than in richer states. Nevertheless, the EU�s policy toward Cuba is not driven by economic interests.

Mark Falcoff
Resident Scholar Emeritus, AEI
Spain is the second largest investor in Latin America, and it has played a decisive role in shaping the EU�s Cuba policy. In Spain, as in the United States and in Cuba itself, the Cuba policy is a matter of domestic politics. Both the Spanish Left and the Spanish Right feel a great sentiment for Cuba. In the past, even the right-wing Franco regime maintained cordial relations with the communist Castro regime. For many Spaniards, the Cuban revolution symbolizes a revolution which did not happen in their own country. Spanish sentiments toward Cuba also result from anti-Americanism, which is among the most intense in the European Union. Although the American embargo against Cuba certainly has not worked, neither has the European Union�s policy. And if the new EU policy does not bring concrete results, the United States will not change its Cuba policy.

Maria C. Werlau
Principal, Orbis International Consulting; President, Free Society Project
The changes in the European Union�s policy towards Cuba are not due to Europe�s growing economic interests there. In business, Cuba is a high-risk country comparable to Haiti and Somalia. Total accumulated foreign investments stand at about $2 billion. Cuba is also greatly indebted: in 1986 it stopped paying its creditors and exhausted its credit capabilities. The Europeans might be thinking that they can bring about political changes in Cuba by intensifying their economic relations with the Castro regime. However, that policy is unlikely to work: European companies will not be keen to do business in Cuba because they do not trust the regime to actually pay for the contracted services, and Cuba does not need Europe because it can increasingly rely economically on China and Russia.

Tomas Pojar Director, People in Need
The Czechs experienced communism, and they understand how important it is to support dissidents in countries like Cuba. Thanks to pressure from the Czech government, the EU adopted a policy which was more favorable to the dissidents than what the Spanish government originally proposed. But even this modified version of the EU�s �constructive dialogue� will not improve the conditions in Cuba any more than the American embargo. It must be remembered that only about a dozen of the seventy-five political prisoners were released. They were freed because the Castro regime did not want them to die of old age in jail. The rest of them remain locked up, alongside about 200 other political prisoners, whom no one has mentioned so far.
It is doubtful that the EU will be able to maintain a common position on Cuba. Right now the EU cannot agree on a common position regarding Cuba in the UN Human Rights Commission. In many western European countries there is a deep ideological sympathy for Fidel Castro. When the former Czech president Vaclav Havel asked European politicians to join him on a committee to help Cuban dissidents, a large number of prominent figures from the Left declined the invitation or ignored it.

Frank Calzon
Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba
The American embargo is not what it used to be forty years ago: American companies can now sell their products to Cuba. But what they need to realize is that from the perspective of Fidel Castro, they are selling political influence, not just products to the regime. The European Union�s approach is antagonizing the Cuban dissidents. When the Spanish ambassador to Cuba (a former member of the Politburo of the Spanish Communist Party) announced the new policy to a group of dissidents, many of them walked out of the Spanish Embassy in protest. The assertion made by Juan Jose Buitrago de Benito that political transition in poorer countries is more violent than in richer countries is false: Nicolai Ceaucescu�s Romania probably had the best economic contacts with the United States in the entire Soviet Bloc, but in 1989 the revolution there was much more violent than elsewhere in the region. The European Union applies special standards in its relations with Cuba. Were the EU to apply its usual standards, the Castro regime would be treated by Brussels no better than the junta in Burma, with which the EU maintains no contacts.
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