Havana refuses to do deal with Spain on prisoners

4th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

5 April 2007, HAVANA - Spain agreed to help Cuba make contacts with the European Union, but Havana made it clear that the question of the 300 or so political prisoners in the island's jails is off the agenda.

5 April 2007

HAVANA - Spain agreed to help Cuba make contacts with the European Union, but Havana made it clear that the question of the 300 or so political prisoners in the island's jails is off the agenda.

Miguel Angel Moratinos ended his first official visit to Cuba with important agreements to renew Spanish development aid - suspended after the 2003 crisis - and to create a formal mechanism for dialogue on human rights, the first of its kind signed by the Cuban government with an EU country.

The minister was received by acting president Raul Castro, in whom he said he found "comprehension ... (and) the will to work together" and to whom he delivered a handwritten note from Spain's King Juan Carlos inquiring after the health of Fidel Castro, who has been recovering for the past eight months from an illness and surgery, the nature of which have remained "state secrets".

Moratinos and his Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, emphasized that this visit had opened a new phase in bilateral relations.

However, despite the agreements and the many declarations of good intentions and "frank and sincere" dialogue on "all matters," Perez Roque made clear that the subject of political prisoners, the most delicate issue in the tense relations between Havana and the EU, remains off limits.

"The prisoners in Cuba do not constitute part of this agenda. We, in addition, consider that that is an issue that has to be dealt with by our legal system, by the established mechanisms in our country and, of course, in accord with what is set forth in Cuban laws," said Perez Roque.

Havana stopped accepting development assistance from EU member-states in the summer of 2003 during the diplomatic crisis between Cuba and Brussels sparked by the Castro government's execution of three ferry hijackers and imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents.

The Spanish government, headed at the time by conservative Premier Jose Maria Aznar, led the push for EU sanctions against Cuba.

The move came as no surprise to the opposition in Cuba, which condemned Spain for trying to do a deal with Havana.

In recent days, members of the internal opposition have expressed their desire to have contact with the minister and have asked him to intercede with the regime to free the dissidents currently being held in prison.

The Ladies in White, a group made up of the wives and other relatives of the 75 Cuban dissidents arrested and sentenced in 2003 to lengthy prison terms for allegedly subversive activities, called on Moratinos in a video released in Havana on Monday to ask the Castro regime to release jailed opponents.

The Cuban government has roughly 300 political prisoners in its jails.

Moratinos also met briefly with Cuba's Catholic primate, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news


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