The EU needs to drive for democracy in Cuba openly

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Tourists walk in a square in Havana, Cuba, 27 September 2019. [Ernestro Mastrascusa/EPA/EFE]

Agreements with governments that do not intend to respect the principles laid down in the texts are just cynical tools that undermine an international order built on trust, and the current Cuban government is a case in point, write Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Erik Jennische.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa is the spokesperson of Arco Progresista and promoter of Propuesta2020, Erik Jennische represents the NGO Civil Rights Defenders in Stockholm.

The human rights dialogue between the EU and Cuba held in Brussels on 2 and 3 October could have become an important event had the Cuban civil society been invited.

However, the Cuban government has won the right to approve which Cuban and European organisations can take part. Hence no Cuban civil society organisations and no European human rights organisations that work with Cuba were invited to participate.

Both of our organisations had applied to participate beforehand, and were in Brussels during the days of the dialogue, but were not invited.

All Cuban participants were politically, legally and financially dependent on the Cuban communist party. And it is no surprise that the EU has not reached any results when it comes to human rights in Cuba, either through the negotiation process prior to the agreement that was signed in 2016 or through the five human rights dialogues held this far.

This cannot continue. If the human rights dialogue with Cuba is to have any positive consequences for the Cuban people, the EU and its member states need to take a tougher stand and create clear conditions for the dialogue to continue.

When the government of Sweden on 12 June withdrew its proposal from parliament to approve the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, PDCA, between the European Union and Cuba, the move stirred up great enthusiasm within the Cuban independent civil society.

391 civil society activists wrote an open letter to the Swedish government supporting the decision and proposing a number of reforms the Cuban government should initiate before an agreement could be approved.

The disappointment was then equally great when, a couple of weeks later, the Swedish government sent the same proposal back to parliament, again aiming at getting support for the approval of the PDCA.

In the letter, the activists concluded that signing an agreement must be “something more than a gesture of willingness to sign pacts and agreements, and become a gesture of will to behave in accordance with the spirit and nature of the agreement.”

The human rights situation in Cuba has nevertheless worsened since 2016. Arbitrary detentions, violence against civil society actors, physical and psychological torture; punishment against entrepreneurs and workers who express social concerns, repression against LGBTI+-manifestations, a ban on foreign travel for civil society actors etc happens on a daily basis.

The recent prison sentence against independent journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces; the conviction and imprisonment of rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, the brutal invasion of the home of Maria Elena Mir Marrero where all of her possessions of any value were stolen by the police, are just a few examples from the last couple of weeks of normality in Cuba.

These events – as so many others – clearly demonstrate that the Cuban government is not prepared to respect the spirit of its agreement with the EU, in which the parties reaffirm “their respect for universal human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international instruments on human rights”.

Havana is not even prepared to comply with its new Constitution, which entered into force on 10 April and recognises a series of constitutional rights and guarantees that could and should be respected by the authorities.

There is no point in opposing dialogue or cooperation in principle. However, agreements with governments that do not intend to respect the principles laid down in the texts, are just cynical tools that undermine an international order built on trust.

In order for the PDCA to have a positive impact on the human rights situation in Cuba, the Cuban government will need to show its commitment to follow its principles. The signatories of the letter suggested that Sweden made sure the Cuban government adopts a number of measures before the agreement is ratified.

These measures could also be demanded by the Netherlands and Lithuania, which have not ratified the PDCA either, and used by both the EEAS and the European Parliament in their relations with Cuba:

  • The expressed commitment by the Cuban government to respect the rights and guarantees contained in the newly approved Constitution.
  • The cessation of harassment and repression against citizens in the Cuban civil society.
  • The end of the hate crime machinery being built up within sectors of the Cuban society, where officials of the highest ranks of the State participate, and which has manifested itself particularly against women in civil society.
  • The release of unjustly incarcerated prisoners, often allegedly responsible for political crimes or for using their freedom of expression, including freedom of artistic expression.
  • The gradual construction of a human rights dialogue between Cubans and,
  • The ratification of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, signed by the previous Cuban government in 2008.

The PDCA with Cuba will only start bearing fruit the day the Cuban government starts acting in accordance with the principles it has signed up to. And it is the EU’s and its member states’ obligation to the citizens of Cuba to make sure that happens.

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