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Human rights on agenda of Moratinos Cuba visit

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Thursday he would visit Cuba next week to speak about human rights and support mediation efforts launched by the Roman Catholic Church.

“I will be visiting Cuba Monday and Tuesday,” he told Cadena Ser radio, adding that the aim was to “pursue every effort at dialogue to improve the human rights situation and the process of reform” on the communist-ruled island.

Moratinos singled out the recent successes of the Church with regard to political prisoners, saying, “I am convinced there will be positive results with regard to human rights” in Cuba.

Last month Havana released an ailing political prisoner, Ariel Sigler, and transferred 12 other detainees to facilities in their home provinces following unprecedented dialogue between Cuban President Raul Castro and Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Shortly afterwards Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti described evolving relations between Roman Catholic Church and Cuba as “very positive,” on a visit commemorating the 75th anniversary of ties.

Jailed dissident physician Darsi Ferrer was also released in June after serving 11 months of a 15-month jail sentence for illegally purchasing construction materials — charges his family said were trumped up.

Imprisoned several times for heading protest movements, Ferrer in April went on a three-week hunger strike to demand a fair trial and medical attention. His cause was taken up by several Western nations.

Moratinos said that another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, was in a serious condition after launching a hunger strike four months ago to secure the release of 26 sick detainees.

Farinas stopped taking food the day after leading dissident Orlando Zapata died on February 23 as the result of an 85-day hunger strike.

The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) — an outlawed but tolerated group — estimates there are some 200 political prisoners in the Caribbean nation of more than 11 million people.

Cuban authorities consider them a threat to national security, and claim the prisoners are “mercenaries” on Washington’s pay, out to smear the Cuban government.

During its just-ended tenure of the European Union’s rotating presidency Spain urged that full relations with Cuba be restored, but it met with resistance from other countries in the 27-nation bloc.

EU foreign ministers decided to look at the question again in September.

The “common position” at present is to insist that Cuba make progress on human rights and democracy before ties are normalised, diplomats said.

Spain has argued that the EU position has yielded few results since it was adopted in 1996 and should be abandoned.