The Miami Herald
December 10, 2001

EU: no way to boost Cuba ties unless Havana improves rights record

 Associated Press Writer

 BRUSSELS, Belgium -- (AP) -- The European Union said Monday it cannot intensify relations with Cuba unless Havana makes significant improvements in human rights record.

 The EU foreign ministers issued a statement at their monthly meeting, saying the human rights situation in Cuba ``is still seriously wanting as regards the recognition and application of civil and political freedoms.''

 It criticized Cuba for refusing ``to contemplate reforms leading to a political system based on those values.''

 The statement came a week after an EU delegation held talks in Havana to discuss relations between Cuba and the 15-nation EU.

 The EU said the visit showed there was no room yet for closer ties, despite minor improvements, including greater religious freedom, fewer political prisoners and the recent decision by the Cuban parliament approving the country's accession to all U.N. anti-terrorism conventions.

 At last week's talks in Havana, the two sides simply agreed to reopen a broad political dialogue and said they would ``exchange relative information'' about human rights issues.

 Relations have been tenuous since several EU countries joined a U.N. vote condemning Cuba's human rights record last year.

 That led a Cuban delegation to cancel a visit to Europe and stay away from joining the EU's multi-billion-euro (dollar) aid-and-trade pact with scores of developing

 Within the EU, notably in Britain, there is a strong view that any significant improvement in relations with Cuba would only upset the United States as it tries to keep
 together a global alliance in its war on terrorism, officials said.

 In the past, the Europeans and the Americans have clashed over how to best deal with Fidel Castro's communist regime.

 Last week's EU mission to Havana was downgraded. It was led by a senior Belgian diplomat, rather than Louis Michel, the foreign minister of Belgium, which currently holds the EU presidency.

                                    © 2001