Spain calls for 'softer line' on Castro

19th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

19 October 2004, BRUSSELS - European Union nations met Tuesday for contentious talks called by Spain on whether the 25-nation bloc should adopt a softer line towards the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

19 October 2004

BRUSSELS - European Union nations met Tuesday for contentious talks called by Spain on whether the 25-nation bloc should adopt a softer line towards the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

The meeting, involving senior foreign ministry officials from EU member states, came after a new Socialist government took power in Spain in March and dropped its conservative predecessor's hardline stance towards Castro.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government "is looking for a new type of relationship" with Cuba, an EU diplomat said, notably by dropping sanctions adopted by the EU in June 2003.

The EU adopted the sanctions after 75 dissidents were arrested and given heavy jail terms, as well as in protest against the execution of three Cubans who were trying to flee the country.

Among the EU measures was a decision to invite Cuban dissidents to embassy receptions to mark national days, which led Castro to break off dialogue with the bloc in retaliation.

Spain considers that this approach "is going nowhere" and wants a more structured relationship involving systematic contacts with Castro opponents rather than such "symbolic" gestures, the EU diplomat said.

Under Madrid's suggested approach, the EU would stop issuing the invitations and see if relations with Cuba improve, "to see if there is a positive step-up rather than the negative downward spiral in which we are now".

But the EU would retain the right to re-impose the sanctions while also holding regular contacts with dissidents, sources said.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, backs a resumption of dialogue with Cuba and is hoping that Castro's government will reverse a decision to refuse EU development aid funds.

But the Spanish initiative has run into varying degrees of opposition from other EU member states which are wary of being seen as rewarding Castro without any democratic reforms in return.

Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden are all understood to be against softening the EU's pressure on the Cuban regime.

The Brussels meeting comes after Cuban dissidents walked out of a Spanish national day reception at the country's embassy in Havana earlier this month when Spain's ambassador aired the conciliatory line being pushed by Madrid.

After the controversy erupted, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Spain was right to ask its EU partners to change a policy that has proven itself "fairly ineffective".

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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