Borrell defends agreement with Cuba in European Parliament

EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 08 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/Jean-Francois Badias / POOL]

The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, defended before the European Parliament on Tuesday (9 June) the ratification and implementation of a political dialogue agreement with Cuba, after a leaked email had suggested close proximity between some Socialist EU lawmakers and the Cuban regime.

“The official position of the EU is to be against the US blockade of Cuba. I am not saying this because I am a dangerous Castroite, but because it is the official position of the EU,” Borrell, a veteran Spanish diplomat, told the Parliament’s plenary in Strasbourg.

Cuba turned a page in its history when Miguel Diaz-Canel took over as president after nearly 60 years of rule by revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and then his brother Raul.

In recent years, Havana and Brussels also launched dialogues focusing on five areas including sustainable development, non-proliferation, human rights and unilateral measures.

However, relations have been strained in recent years, due to the EU’s numerous accusations of Cuba’s human rights abuses, which have been a sticking point of a 2016 political dialogue and cooperation agreement (PDCA). The agreement has been ratified by all member states except Lithuania.

According to Borrell, the agreement between the EU and Cuba would establish a continuous mechanism for dialogue to “strengthen human rights and democracy,” as well as spell out criteria for cooperation.

The agreement “has created new spaces for the participation of Cuban civil society,” said Borrell, adding that “I cannot think of a better instrument” since it defines “a policy of critical engagement with that country.”

The instrument “allows us to accompany the country in political, economic and social reform,” he said, insisting that he wants to defend the agreement “although I know that several legislators have serious reservations and reluctance [about it]”.

The full ratification of the agreement depends on the solitary vote of Vilnius, as it has already received the green light from parliaments in the rest of the 27-country bloc.

In particular, Borrell recalled the recent arrest of Cuban opposition activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, which had caused concern among MEPs.

“I am glad that he has been released. Our services have been in contact with him since his release, he has expressed his gratitude and told us that he will continue his activism. We will continue to monitor his situation,” said Borrell.

Political games?

The debate was, however, overshadowed by an email published by Spanish daily ABC, a newspaper of record for the exiled of Cuba and Venezuela in Spain, which suggested alleged close cooperation between deputies of Spain’s ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE, part of S&D) in the European Parliament and the Cuban Embassy.

According to the media outlet, an exchange of emails between an SD political adviser and the office of the head of the Spanish socialist delegation in the EP, MEP Javier Moreno Sánchez, suggested their intention to block this week’s debate at the European Parliament on the human rights and political situation in Cuba.

The leaked email also suggested that the cabinet of Socialist-affiliated Borrell has had knowledge of the discussion.

An open letter – initiated by Spanish MEP José Ramón Bauzá (Ciudadanos, Renew Europe) and signed by the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) and liberal Renew Europe lawmakers – asked Borrell to clarify whether his cabinet indeed knew of the intention to block the debate.

Contacted by EURACTIV, Borrell’s team declined to comment on the media reports and said that the EU’s chief diplomat had given “a very clear response” in the plenary debate as to where he stands on the issue.

Borrell himself told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg the allegation that he could be “dedicated to supporting dictatorships, this is so ridiculous that it’s not really worth responding to such comments”.

“It looks like party political games,” an EU source suggested to EURACTIV when asked about the matter, adding that none of the EU lawmakers had raised the matter in public in the plenary.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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