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Don't relax EU policy towards Cuba, say former political prisoners

The EU should not revise its policy, agreed in 1996, on Cuba - i.e. no dialogue with Havana in the absence of progress on democracy and human rights - as there is no sign of genuine political change there, and hundreds of political prisoners are still behind bars, recently-released Cuban political prisoners Ricardo González Alfonso, Normando Hernández, Antonio Díaz and Alejandro González Raga urged Parliament's Human Rights Subcommittee on Monday.

Welcoming the four Cuban ex-prisoners, Human Rights Subcommittee Chair Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI), said that "
they  had gone through a very difficult time.  Conditions of imprisonment were very harsh: bad hygiene and sanitary conditions, excessive heat and humidity, poor alimentation, solitary confinement. We acknowledge and admire your strength and endurance, your faith and integrity to endure these very hard circumstances". Ms Hautala also underlined that "releasing some of the prisoners and then sending them straight into exile is only partially a positive step. Another 115 political prisoners are still behind bars in Cuba."

Improving the human rights situation in Cuba
Parliament can help to improve the human rights situation in Cuba by raising awareness of the work of human rights groups, said Antonia Diaz in reply to questions by Chair of the Delegation for relations with Central America Emine Bozkurt (S&D, NL) and Subcommittee Vice-Chair Laima Liucija Andrikiene (EPP, LT).

The debate on Cuba should be promoted in the European Parliament and in the UN Human Rights Council, even though some groups of countries have affinities with the Cuban government, he continued, calling for free and independent elections in Cuba, added Mr Diaz.

"We must be consistent in defending human rights in all countries, irrespective of possible sympathies", reiterated Richard Howitt (S&D, UK).

Clear "no" to changing the Council policy decision on Cuba
José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, ES), asked the ex-prisoners if they thought that changing the EU Council policy decision of 1996 - which defines relations with Cuba and makes any resumption of dialogue conditional upon progress on human rights and political openness from the Cuban side - would help to improve the human rights situation in Cuba or whether it would simply give more "fresh air" to the regime? 

All four ex-prisoners opposed revising the policy decision. "If in Cuba there were real freedom of expression, of association and of press, I would come here to ask that the common position be modified", said Mr González Alfonso.

The policy decision "is not against the Cuban people, but against the Castro regime", noted Mr Hernández González.

Very limited internet access
"What could impact could the internet have on human rights and future generations?" asked Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL). Mr  Diaz explained that internet access in Cuba is possible only with official authorisation. "The internet has very little influence in Cuba and the government does not want people to know about it", he said.

Sakharov prize laureates - Ladies in White and Oswaldo Payá
MEPs agreed that the representatives of Ladies in White should be invited  to Parliament in December for the Sakharov prize 2010award ceremony, so that they can finally receive this prestigious prize.

One of the 2005 Sakharov Prize laureates is the Cuban protest movement "Ladies in White" (Damas de Blanco), in which many wives of the political prisoners are active. 

The organisation came into being following the arrest of political dissidents in 2003, who were imprisoned for criticising the lack of political freedom in Cuba and calling for constitutional changes.

The leader of the MCL (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación) Oswaldo Payá received in 2002 the Sakharov prize.

The Cuban delegation was also received by European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.

In the chair: Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI)

Further information : 
Human Rights Subcommittee 
Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2005: "Ladies, Ibrahim and Reporters joint Sakharov prize winners" 
Council conclusions on Evaluation of the EU Common Position on Cuba 
Watch the recording of the DROI meeting - EPLive




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