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Cuban exiles pessimistic over talks with Madrid

20 June 2007

MADRID – Spain’s dialogue with the Castro regime is unlikely to produce much in the way of results unless Madrid gives the island’s dissidents a bigger role in the process, members of the Cuban exile community said.

They commented after a two-hour session with the foreign ministry’s director-general for Latin America, Javier Sandomingo.

The official laid out Madrid’s strategy of talking to authorities in Havana and to “all sectors of Cuban society” in keeping with the new phase opened by the decision by the ailing Fidel Castro to delegate power to younger brother Raul, the ministry said in a statement.

He also explained the Madrid government’s aim of continuing with the dialogue on human rights – including the matter of the more than 280 political prisoners being held by the Castro government – that Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos launched during his visit to Cuba in April.

At the meeting were representatives of the Cuban Liberal Union, Cuban Democracy Now, the Christian Liberation Movement, Cuban Culture Encounter Association, Cuban Pro Human Rights Committee, Colibri Publishing and the Union of the Cuban People, as well as journalist and poet Raul Rivero.

In statements to reporters at the end of the meeting, Rivero, himself a former political prisoner, expressed his distrust of the type of dialogue the Spanish government was pursuing with a regime like that in Cuba.

“The planned dialogue, the dialogue of making concessions to the Cuban government, makes no sense. There has to be a dialogue in which those people take part,” said Rivero, alluding to the members of the Cuban dissident movement on the island.

He said that the internal situation in Cuba and that of the regime’s political prisoners has become “much worse” since Fidel delegated power, ostensibly provisionally, to Raul, the communist island’s veteran defense chief.

The head of Cuban Democracy Now (Cuba Democracia Ya), Rigoberto Carceller, also expressed his skepticism at the results of the meeting, saying that “the Cuban regime is gaining time” by means of Spain’s policy.

Carceller thanked the ministry who invited the opposition figures to the meeting, but he reproached Moratinos for not meeting with them when he traveled to Havana.

The representative of the Christian Liberation Movement, Carlos Paya, in remarks to Efe, acknowledged the “good will” of the Spanish government and said he appreciated its interest in dialogue.

But he also urged the authorities to support actions favoring democracy that have already been established inside Cuba like the so-called Varela Project pushed by his brother Oswaldo Paya, which calls for the opening up of social and political space for the free and responsible participation of Cubans in bringing political change to the island.

He said that the Castro regime must “take steps” and not limit itself to freeing prisoners because “there are 11 million Cubans” in all who would benefit from a move toward greater freedom.

The coordinator of the Cuban Liberal Union, Antonio Guedes, called Tuesday’s meeting a “make-up operation” in which the Spanish government “said nothing new.”

Guedes, in remarks to Efe, lamented the fact that Madrid is contributing – “albeit without wanting to” – to legitimizing a succession from one Castro to another.

“At this time, who is happy? The Cuban regime. It’s one thing to talk, to build bridges, and another is strategy,” he said.

The foreign ministry said that the tone at Tuesday’s session, the first of its kind since Octuber 2005, was “cordial and confident.”

Sandomingo was the official tasked with meeting with some of the island’s dissidents in Havana after Moratinos left the Cuban capital after his April visit.

That trip was the first to Cuba by an EU foreign minister since the diplomatic crisis four years ago between Havana and the European Union sparked by the execution of three ferry hijackers and the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents.

In 2003, the then-conservative Spanish government led the push for EU sanctions against Cuba, and Washington has used blunt language for the more conciliatory approach toward Havana adopted by the current Socialist administration in Madrid.

But EU foreign ministers voted Monday to maintain the policy the bloc adopted in 2005, when the Council of Europe accepted a Spanish proposal to lift the mild diplomatic sanctions, which had included restricting official visits to the island and inviting dissidents to embassy receptions, imposed on Havana in 2003.

That approach also calls for the EU to pursue a dual dialogue with the Castro government and its internal opponents. EFE

[Copyright EFE wit Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news