South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 1, 2005

EU ends freeze on Cuba relations

Bloc still intends to increase ties with dissidents

By Constant Brand
The Associated Press

BRUSSELS, Belgium · European Union foreign ministers agreed Monday to restore normal diplomatic relations with the Cuban government while pledging to increase contacts with critics of President Fidel Castro.

The decision, announced by Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, ends a freeze on high-level contacts imposed by the 25-nation bloc after Havana cracked down on dissidents in March 2003.

A statement approved by the ministers said the EU was willing to resume "a constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities aiming at tangible results in the political, economic, human rights and cooperation sphere."

But the EU insisted it would continue to raise human rights issues and demanded the "urgent" and "unconditional" release of all dissidents, including the 75 given prison terms of up to 28 years in 2003.

Asselborn told a news conference the new policy would be reviewed in July.

"We highlighted the need to support a process leading to democratic pluralism, respect for human rights and basic freedoms," he said.

The EU stressed that any normalization of relations would not curtail its contacts with Cuban dissidents.

"The EU would develop more intense relations with the peaceful political opposition and broader layers of civil society in Cuba, through enhanced and more regular dialogue," it said.

Cuban authorities said earlier this month they had resumed formal ties with all of the EU's representatives in Havana. They had suspended relations in retaliation for the EU's ban on high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba and the Europeans' decision to invite dissidents to embassy gatherings.

The freeze began melting in November as the EU reviewed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and Havana released 14 of 75 imprisoned dissidents.

In Havana, dissident Martha Beatriz Roque criticized the EU for allowing the Cuban government "to twist its arm."

"The position adopted by the EU is not at all beneficial to democracy in Cuba," she said. "But regardless of the fact that the EU has turned its back on us, we will continue working."

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