By talking only to the Cuban government and ignoring civil society groups, the EU is allowing the Cuban state to continue its programme of repressing democracy and human rights, write Ariadna Mena Rubio, Rosa Maria Payá and Erik Jennische.
Ariadna Mena Rubio is Promotora de Cuba Decide, Rosa Maria Payá is executive director for Fundacion para la Democracy Panamericana, and Erik Jennische, programme director for Latin America at Civil Rights Defenders.
Since the EU and Cuba entered the negotiations on a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, PDCA, early 2014, the word ‘dialogue’ has been on top of the agenda.
However, the dialogue has this far only been held with the Cuban government, a group of revolutionaries that has been ruling the country for 60 years without any democratic legitimacy. There has never been a formalised dialogue with Cuban organisations that are not part of the government structure.
In a resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba from last week, the European Parliament upheld this and called on “VP/HR Federica Mogherini to recognise the existence of a political opposition to the Cuban Government and to support its inclusion in the political dialogue”. This has been a demand from Cuban and European human rights organisations for years now, and a key factor for any positive effect of the PDCA.
The negligence of the Cuban independent civil society by European representatives in Havana is evident. This summer Ariadna Mena Rubio, one of the signatories of this article, took on the mission of contacting the EU delegation and a number of the EU members’ state embassies to initiate a dialogue between them and the promoters of Cuba Decide.
Cuba Decide is a non-partisan campaign promoting a plebiscite on the democratisation of Cuba. It is widely supported throughout the Island by independent citizens and opposition organisations.
It was initiated by Rosa Maria Payá, the daughter of a former Sakharov prize laureate, to peacefully change the single-party system imposed by the dictatorship to a multiparty democracy. The reactions from the EU delegation and the embassies were however not as enthusiastic.
When calling the EU delegation to ask for a meeting with the individual responsible for human rights issues, Mena Rubio was informed that she could call the following week. She continued calling the following weeks but did not get a response. In August she was told that the person responsible for human rights was on vacation but that she was welcome to call back in September.
At the Austrian embassy, a Cuban employee responded that Mena Rubio had to write an email. The email never received a reply and when she called back the employee said he could do nothing more.
The Belgian embassy responded that Mena Rubio had to call back at a certain time but when she did, the person had already left the office. She called back the following weeks and was then asked to leave her email in order for them to write to her. She never received an email. When she called back and introduced herself after that, she was continuously told to call later.
The Cuban employee at the Greek embassy told her to write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to which she understandably did not get an answer.
The Cuban employee at the French embassy told her to write to www.govuk@.gov. When she called back and talked to another employee, she was told the given address was correct.
Contacting the German embassy, Mena Rubio was asked to provide her contact details and told she would be contacted the following week. When she was not, she called again and was told that the responsible person would not be there the coming two weeks. After that, she has been told continuously to call back the following week.
The Swedish embassy responded in the same way; the employee asking her to leave her contact details and to call back the following week.The Slovak embassy transferred the call to a diplomat who told her to call back on Tuesdays, the day they supposedly attend to these issues. She did several times but was not able to schedule a meeting.
After months of phone calls and emails, she did not succeed in organising one single meeting. This disinterest in communicating with the Cuban civil society has been recurrent for years. As far as we know, the EU did not hold any formal meeting with independent civil society organisations or the political opposition during the negotiation process, and has not done so since the signing of the agreement in December 2016 either.
When EU delegations visit Havana, journalists working for independent Cuban news outlets such as 14 y Medio, Diario de Cuba and Cubanet are never welcome to the press briefings.
The dozen or so Cuban organizations that participated in the civil society meeting preceding the Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and the Cuba on 9 October were all proposed by the Cuban authorities. Not a single representative of the independent Cuban civil society was invited.
Almost five years of negotiations and human rights dialogues have not led to a single positive result for the human rights of Cuban citizens.
The Cuban government can however be satisfied. It has convinced the EU to reject its common position on Cuba dating from 1996, which demanded a multiparty democracy. And in its report “Human rights and democracy in the world” from 2016, the EU claims that “Cuba is a one-party democracy, in which elections take place at municipal, provincial and national level”.
That is an astonishing statement, but completely in line with the EEAS refusal to make any denunciation on the human rights violations by the Cuban government.
The problem here is not to convince the Cuban government to democratise and respect human rights, but that it does not want to leave power. And its main tool to remain in power is to repress the basic human rights of the Cuban citizens.
If the EU and its member states do not open up to a formal and constructive dialogue with the Cuban opposition, as the European Parliament demands, Europe is participating in this repression and helping a dictatorial regime prolong its time in power.