By Carlos Perez Gil
MADRID – During its six-month presidency of the European Union, Spain will try hard up until the end of its term to attempt to soften the bloc’s common policy toward Cuba, although Madrid assumes that it will not be possible to change the stance that has prevailed since 1996 and pegs top-level dialogue with the Castro regime to advances toward democracy on the island.
The lack of sufficient gestures in favor of its political prisoners on the part of the Raul Castro regime and the rejection by several European partners of the attempt to make more flexible the current framework of bilateral relations are the main obstacles toward changing the common position, Spanish government officials said.
Before the Spanish presidency began, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had set as a goal opening a new phase in the relationship between the EU and Cuba.
The common position, which was established 14 years ago at the urging of then-Spanish conservative Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, conditions dialogue with the communist island’s government on moves to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba, and it defends direct contact with the dissidents there.
The idea of the current Socialist Spanish government was to replace the unilateral stance, which was rejected from the start by Havana, with a bilateral relationship favoring dialogue with all sectors of Cuban society, including the dissidents.
The Spanish EU presidential office, whose tenure ends on June 30, believes that the decision taken this past week by the Castro regime with the mediation of the Catholic Church to transfer six political prisoners to prisons closer to their cities of residence is a first step, although it is insufficient if other more significant moves are not also made, sources said.
The European leaders will make their annual review of the relationship with the island at the Brussels summit on June 17, a meeting that – for all practical purposes – marks the end of the Spanish mandate.
Despite the fact that it has not been possible to obtain unanimity among the 27 member states to eliminate the common position, the Spanish government intends to include in the EU declaration that will be approved regarding Cuba a clear reference favoring the normalization of dialogue with the island.
Spain has been reiterating that the current policy is not producing results, that it is causing the EU to lag behind other countries vis-a-vis their stances toward Cuba and that only through greater proximity with the regime can better results be obtained in the situation of the political prisoners.
The Spanish government in June 2008 proposed that the EU lift the sanctions it had imposed against the Castro regime five years before over the imprisonment of 75 opposition figures and open a dialogue with the government with the aim of improving the political situation.
In the debate last year in Brussels, the lack of progress on the part of the regime in moving toward democracy was verified, although the Europeans continued to press for keeping lines of cooperation open with the island.
The EU Committee on Latin America, or COLAT, a forum made up of the top officials for Latin America from all the European bloc partners, will meet on Tuesday in Brussels to discuss the case of Cuba and adopt recommendations on what should be approved at the June 17 summit.