The Miami Herald
Jun. 05, 2003

Europe re-evaluating overtures to Cuba, cites 'flagrant human rights violations'

By The Associated Press

  BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union decided Thursday to re-evaluate recently improved relations with Cuba following the ''deplorable actions'' of Fidel Castro's regime against dissidents, including the return to the death penalty.

  In a sharply worded statement issued by Greece on behalf of the entire 15-nation bloc, the EU said it was ``deeply concerned about the continuing flagrant violation of human rights and of fundamental freedoms of members of the Cuban opposition and of independent journalists.''

  It called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and steps to make sure that ''in the meantime, prisoners do not suffer unduly and are not exposed to inhumane treatment.'' It said reports about poor jail conditions for prisoners with serious health problems were increasing.

  Among the ''recent deplorable actions of the Cuban authorities'' was a decision to break the ''de facto moratorium on the death penalty,'' the statement said.

  Castro's government last month sent three men who hijacked a ferry to a firing squad, a rarely used sentence viewed as a message to anyone else who tries to
  commandeer a boat or plane to the United States.

  As a result, the EU said it had decided unanimously to limit high-level governmental visits, reduce the profile of EU ambassadors at cultural events, invite Cuban dissidents to EU national day celebrations in Cuba and re-evaluate relations overall.

  Less than two months ago, the EU opened a new office in Havana that officials hoped would improve and deepen relations between Europe and the communist-run island.

  ''We are opening a new relationship,'' EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said then he hoped the EU mission would usher in "a new era based on respectful dialogue.''