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Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 1 February 2006 - Brussels OJ edition

13. Cuba

  President. The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Council on the EU’s position in relation to the government of Cuba, put by Graham Watson, Cecilia Malmström, Emma Bonino and Marco Pannella on behalf of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (O-0112/2005 – B6-0675/2005).


  Cecilia Malmström (ALDE), author. (SV) Madam President, Mr President-in–Office of the Council, somewhat overshadowed by the dramatic events in the Middle East, there is, in Havana, a bearded dictator who has mocked the world for decades. He rules over a country in which human rights are violated, in which the people live in great poverty and in which dissidents are imprisoned and persecuted. After China, Cuba is the world’s biggest prison for journalists.

In the spring of 2003, a wave of oppression swept over the island. Leading figures in the democracy movement were arrested and, after farcical trials, 75 of them were sentenced to long prison terms. Last year, a large group of young people were arrested as a preventative measure, the idea being that they might cause trouble. That shows just how much fear there is on the island. When, immediately before Christmas, the European Parliament awarded its Sakharov Prize to the Ladies in White – the wives and daughters of the imprisoned dissidents – representatives of the movement were not allowed to leave the island in order to travel to Strasbourg.

Cuba is a horrendous dictatorship, and the facts I have just mentioned are well known. In recent years, the situation has deteriorated. For political prisoners, the situation is very serious. My friend Héctor Palacios, who was given a 25-year prison sentence, is very ill, and the doctors fear for his life. He is not receiving help for his high blood pressure and the complications surrounding his heart condition. To cite another example, Adolfo Fernandez Seinz too – a journalist sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment - is in poor health and has lost 20 kilos in weight since he was imprisoned.

Outside prison, dissidents too are being persecuted, for example the Sakharov Prize winner Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and the blind human rights activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, who has been under house arrest since April 2004. It is, of course, completely unacceptable that people should still be kept imprisoned in Cuba because of their views. It is equally unacceptable that these prisoners should not receive the help they need when they are in a very poor state of health.

When, a year ago, the Council of Ministers made up its mind to change the common position it had had for many years and, instead, began to talk with the regime, it imagined it could see some kind of opening up in Cuba, with possibilities there. A majority in this Chamber criticised that policy and, a year later, it has to be acknowledged that the policy has had no effect. It was a wrong decision, and it should be reviewed. What does the Council intend to do now in order to support the dissidents in Cuba? How are we constructively to support the democracy movement and the Cuban people? We must increase the pressure on Fidel Castro and, at the same time, find a strategic way of identifying the positive forces of democracy that exist. Why is it so difficult to support the forces of democracy in Cuba when it is possible to do so in Belarus? There is still an embarrassing kind of romanticism surrounding Castro. I should very much like to have some answers from the Council to these questions.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Madam President, Mrs Malmström, the Council welcomes Parliament’s ongoing interest in the improvement of the situation in Cuba, and we will be unstinting in our joint efforts at bringing about peaceful change there.

Let me quote from the common position arrived at in December 1996, which is still applicable, and states, among other things, that ‘The objective of the European Union in its relations with Cuba is to encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people. A transition would most likely be peaceful if the present regime were itself to initiate or permit such a process. It is not European Union policy to try to bring about change by coercive measures with the effect of increasing the economic hardship of the Cuban people.’

With the aim of fostering peaceful change in Cuba, the European Union has entered into dialogue with the Cuban authorities and with all sections of Cuban society, in the course of which the Cuban authorities are regularly reminded of their fundamental responsibility as regards human rights, principally the free expression of opinion and the freedom of association.

Since there is no point in taking political action if it remains without any effect on people where they live, the Council has altered some practical details of its policy in order to make it really effective, particularly in stepping up dialogue with the peaceful opposition, which has given a very warm welcome to these close contacts.

Following on from the final conclusions of the Council of 31 January 2005, both the Luxembourg and British Presidencies and, above all, the European Union’s delegation in Havana have reinvigorated relations with the opposition and with independent elements and have, in so doing, focused on essential medium-term issues associated with transition, including, for example, the development of dialogue with important members of the peaceful opposition with particular reference to their practical plans for the future, and on other means whereby independent organisations and those belonging to civil society may be supported.

At the same time, the Council has forthrightly condemned unacceptable conduct on the part of Cuban officialdom not only in the country itself but also to European politicians and visitors. The presidency has raised the issue of access to ministries in Havana and made the Cuban Government aware of the fact that it can expect no dialogue if it refuses such access to embassies from the European Union and refuses to recognise or speak with representatives from the EU.

The Council has also underlined its willingness to continue with constructive dialogue with the Cuban authorities, on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis, concerning, inter alia, the grant of visas for visits by representatives of the governments concerned.

The Presidency of the European Union has given voice, in an official statement, to its regret at the action taken by the Cuban Government to prevent the so-called Damas de blanco – ‘Ladies in white’ – from travelling to Strasbourg to receive the 2005 Sakharov Prize for intellectual freedom awarded to them by the European Parliament.

Such occurrences, like also the government’s refusal to allow Osvaldo Payá to travel to take part in an NGOs’ forum on the free expression of opinion in December, make it clear that the Cuban authorities disregard their own citizens’ right to freedom of movement, as set out in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Council also regrets the lack of further progress as regards the release of political detainees, and has denounced the detention, last summer, of more members of the peaceful opposition and the action taken by the Cuban authorities to restrict the free expression of opinion, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of the press.

The Council continues to demand of Cuba that it release all political detainees. The EU has intervened in respect of the situation of those detainees who have protested against the condition under which they are being held by going on hunger strike.

Furthermore, and in conclusion, let me remind the House of the active and ongoing part played by the EU, with the open assistance of your House, in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, where it was, last year, one of the co-signatories of a resolution tabled on the subject of Cuba.


  José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (ES) Madam President, Cuba is the only country in Latin America that is not linked to the European Union by means of an association or cooperation agreement. This is not the fault of the European Union, nor of many Members of this Parliament, who have worked hard to preserve the channels for dialogue with the Cuban authorities and people.

Regrettable events, such as not allowing the Women in White to come to the European Parliament or the increased repression – as referred to in the text of the resolution that this Parliament will approve tomorrow – suffered by independent journalists and as recently condemned by Reporters without Borders, peaceful militants and human rights activists, demonstrate clearly that the most fundamental rights on that island are being systematically ignored.

The resolution therefore states that these events are frustrating our aspiration to improve relations between the European Union and Cuba, which is the main objective of the changes to the common position made in January 2005 by the Council, and calls upon the latter, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, to act accordingly.

I would like to remind you, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, that when you approved the lifting of the measures that accompanied the Council's common position, you called for the immediate and unconditional release of the people who had been detained, and now their situation has worsened.

Madam President, Andrei Sakharov said that the voices that count most are often those that are not heard. And I believe, Madam President, that this Parliament has once again had to speak out in this Chamber, which represents the citizens of Europe, in support of the cause of freedom and in order to defend, and expose the plight of, those people in Cuba who are fighting for their freedom and dignity.


  Raimon Obiols i Germà, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President-in-Office of the Council, our group is pleased that the context in which this debate on Cuba is taking place is likely to ensure a broad consensus for a motion for a resolution. We have always believed that in this Parliament and in the Union’s institutions there is a broad basis for agreement and for moving relations with Cuba in the right direction.

As a group, our position is very clear: firstly, in the current context, we can only confirm that the Cuban authorities have not sent out the hoped-for signals with regard to improving human rights in the country. Secondly, we are not finding it possible to present the Sakharov Prize to the Women in White and we must therefore urge the Cuban authorities to allow this group to visit Europe in response to the European Parliament’s invitation. At the same time, I believe that we must call upon the President of Parliament to do everything in his power to ensure that the Prize is properly presented.

Nevertheless, our view is that, in the current climate of relations, the prospects for progress are better now than under the Council’s previous policy, which led us up a blind alley, as did, to say the least, the policy which for decades insisted on sanctions and an embargo.

We believe that the Council's current policy should be maintained, with two objectives: firstly, to continue to call strongly for human rights to be respected in Cuba, the release of prisoners of conscience and of the peaceful opposition and respect for democratic freedoms and, secondly, to maintain and increase relations and dialogue with all of the political and social sectors in Cuba that are involved or interested in relations with Europe and the development of the country and the inevitable changes that we are going to see in Cuba in the near future.




  Raül Romeva i Rueda, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (ES) I agree that there are many alarm signals indicating that the Cuban regime is still implementing a policy of repression of dissident opinion, of arbitrary imprisonment of opposition groups, of constant harassment of anybody expressing opinions contrary to the government line. Also of concern is the repression of sectors which have been stigmatised by the regime, such as homosexuals and certain intellectuals.

In the specific case we are dealing with, the regime’s refusal to allow the Women in White to leave the country to receive the Sakharov Prize is a further example of this worrying situation. Nevertheless, as has already been said, the policy of blockade and isolation to which Cuba has been subjected by several western powers for decades has only toughened the position of the hard-line sectors of the regime. I am therefore pleased that, in June 2005, the Council of the European Union decided to offer Cuba an opportunity for political dialogue once again. The intention here, amongst other things, was to begin to prepare the ground for what many of us hope will be an imminent transition to democracy.

Those of us who have endured a dictatorship know how difficult it is to create a democracy, especially when those people who should be your allies on the outside turn their backs on you. In this regard, the appearance of more and more community, university and scientific groups, both in rural areas and in cities, within churches or in educational or social centres, groups that did not exist before and whose work may make a valuable contribution to political development in Cuba, is a hopeful sign. The time has come for the Cuban regime to accept that their future does not lie in maintaining the status quo, but in tackling in a serious and credible way the transition which the Cuban people themselves, above all, are calling for.

We in the European Union must therefore make it very clear that our intention is simply to help Cuba to enter the modern world via the path of democracy, and we must therefore continue to demand the release of all of the people sentenced to many years in prison for their peaceful opposition to the regime.


  Willy Meyer Pleite, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (ES) Mr President, I would like to express my opposition to the joint initiative which will be voted on tomorrow. This initiative is based - and the text exudes this from every pore - on a position which is exceptional, a position that the European Union has held for some time. It is the only country in the world in relation to which the European Union maintains a situation of exception; there are no other cases. I believe that this is unjust and that, furthermore, it has no effect whatsoever. It is clear that that position will be voted for tomorrow and will have absolutely no effect. I would call for an end to this situation of exception.

The European Union must treat Cuba in the same way as any other country in the world. We must maintain a position that allows for an agenda for joint debate, which deals with all of the issues. We must, of course, demand firstly that the United Sates lift its blockade of the island of Cuba. Naturally, we need to debate the whole issue of the request for the extradition of the terrorist Posada Carriles and, of course, to include in the Ibero-American Summit everything related to what was debated at the Ibero-American Summit between the European Union and Cuba.

Cuba certainly has many faults, but it is exemplary in terms of South/South cooperation. Cuban society is also exemplary with regard to all public services, given that it is a poor country.

I believe that the European Union must not be governed by the dictates of the US State Department. It must not do that. I would therefore naturally call for an independent position that puts an end to the situation of exception between the European Union and Cuba.


  Alessandro Battilocchio (NI).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking on behalf of the new Italian Socialist Party. This Parliament has often – all too often – debated the lack of respect for human rights in Cuba. ‘Words, words, words’, while we wait for positive signs from a dying regime that has no intention of changing course.

In January 2005, the Council made some concessions, in the hope of encouraging a different attitude. All its expectations were promptly dashed: freedom of expression is still, unfortunately, just an illusion, as also demonstrated by the refusal to allow the Women in White to come here to receive the 2005 Sakharov prize.

We can wait no longer. In this situation we, the European Union, have an obligation and a duty to do more, and to do it better and more quickly. I am a reformist socialist, and therefore I dream of a society based on the values of freedom, participation, democracy and social fairness. I am also the youngest Member in this House, and in my heart and mind I share the aspirations of Cubans of my age, who want to be able to look forward with optimism to a country that is at last more open, more modern and more just.


  José Ribeiro e Castro (PPE-DE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I have addressed this House on a number of occasions to warn of the suffering in Cuba, in particular that of people who continue to fight peacefully for democracy and human rights. Unfortunately, the sad reality dictates that we must issue fresh condemnations and protests. During the last plenary session of last year, we saw the levels of intolerance to which Fidel Castro’s regime had sunk. A group of women whose only crime has been to ask for freedom for their husbands and sons, political detainees since the crackdown of March 2003, were prevented from coming to Parliament to receive the Sakharov Prize, along with our suitable tributes and messages of respect from the people of Europe.

Regrettably, this decision and the attitude giving rise to it comes as no surprise. Oswaldo Payá, winner of the Sakharov Prize in 2002, has also repeatedly been banned from coming to Europe to tell us in his own voice what is actually happening in Cuba, and to discuss the situation with us. Parliament has therefore kept an open invitation for him to come here as soon as he is allowed to do so. We should now extend that invitation to the Damas de Blanco and campaign for them to be able to come and receive our warm tributes and words of solidarity in person. It might be possible to award the prize in Havana, but that should not satisfy us. That should be our minimum requirement, but we should always seek more. We must not accept any fleeting or underhand gestures, and nor must we bow to the whims of the dictatorship.

Oswaldo Payá and the Damas de Blanco must be given a public forum in which to express the message of their peaceful campaign for freedom and justice. The people of Europe, and especially the young, must be made aware of their story and their exemplary fight for human rights.

I hope that the outcome of this debate will be that nobody can be in any doubt when condemning a brutal dictatorship. Hopefully, the Council will finally acknowledge its mistake and stop deluding itself, which, as we have seen, only leads to tougher repression and greater injustice. We will continue to fight for Europe to act more firmly. Let nobody say that Parliament has wavered in its unequivocal condemnation of a dictatorial regime. This is my appeal, from democrats to democrats.


  Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez (PSE). – (ES) I would like to thank my group, which is allowing me to speak despite knowing that I do not agree with their position. I am not going to vote for the resolution, which seems to me to be unbalanced, pointless and harmful to the European Union’s image in the developing world. Furthermore, the fact that there are just twenty Members in the Chamber demonstrates the degree of priority the Members of this Parliament attach to this debate.

I preferred the socialist proposal, but then fundamental aspects such as the United States’ blockade and Guantánamo, the most scandalous violation of human rights taking place on the island, have been lost. The imbalance is all the greater given that the resolution does not acknowledge some of Cuba’s actions, in particular the work it has been doing in terms of cooperation with the countries of the Caribbean, Latin American, Africa and even Asia.

Last week, when discussing disability and development, we highlighted the fact that, in 2005, 208 000 blind people from those countries had had operations in Cuba free of charge. That does not appear to be important here, but it is very important for the people whose sight has been restored and for their countries. The fact that there are more than 20 000 Cuban doctors and almost as many sports instructors and teachers working in this same field of Southern solidarity illustrates something that many people here deny or keep quiet, but their sectarian approach, which leads to resolutions like this one, damages the European Union’s image amongst the countries and peoples of the South who feel respect and gratitude towards Cuba.

Finally, all this resolution will achieve will be to confirm the Cuban authorities’ conviction that the European Union is not an independent interlocutor, but simply an extension of the interests and strategies of the Bush administration, and it will not persuade it to do a single thing to move in the direction in which many of us would like to see things progress in their country; in other words, in this regard as well, this resolution is essentially pointless except for those people in this House whose aim is simply to discriminate against Cuba and carry on treating it as an exception and in a manner that is different to the way it treats other countries with similar regimes. The most regrettable thing is that, by taking this approach, Europe is becoming less and less relevant on a large part of the international stage.

For all of these reasons, I would repeat that I am not going to vote for the resolution and I hope that my fellow Members will at least listen to my arguments, regardless of how they vote tomorrow. If they vote like me, all the better.


  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL). – (NL) Mr President, to some people, including in Europe, Cuba is paradise, while to others, it is hell. Measured against Europe’s current yardstick of a multi-party democracy and individual human rights, that country leaves a great deal to be desired. For nearly half a century, the same movement and the same leader have been in power. The Cubans are not free to travel abroad, not even to receive a prize that has been awarded to them.

Oppositions are given little opportunity to organise themselves and if, despite everything, they succeed, they are not given the chance to measure their public following at election time. Like its big neighbour, the United States, Cuba still practises capital punishment, and that is something that can, and indeed should, be condemned. With all this criticism heaped on Cuba, I do not think that we are dealing with your everyday dictatorship. The country makes great claims for itself and has, for years, served as an example to the rest of Latin America in the areas of education, health care and other public services, as well as the protection of the most vulnerable sections of the population.

In terms of democracy and human rights, it was certainly not worse off than the rest of Latin America used to be. It still serves as the source of inspiration for those voters – a majority – who favour modernisation in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Europe has never followed North America’s tactic of isolating Cuba, and rightly so, for much of what is wrong in Cuba is being fostered by this very tactic. If we want Cuba to improve, we need to work at building an open relationship.


  Frank Vanhecke (NI). – (NL) Mr President, the fact that the human rights situation in that museum of Stalinism, the Communist dictatorship that is Cuba, has deteriorated still further, is of course a disgrace, but I should like to draw Parliament’s attention to our own European Commissioner, the Belgian European Commissioner Louis Michel, who is at least partly to blame for this. It was Louis Michel who, not so long ago, following a congenial four-day visit to Havana, advised the European Council, in strong terms, not to consider imposing any diplomatic sanctions.

It was also Louis Michel who retorted to the human rights organisations that Fidel Castro’s regime should not be provoked. Whilst, for example, Human Rights Watch urged the European Union not to normalise its economic relations with Cuba at least until political prisoners had been released and democratic reforms implemented, Mr Michel stated that he was in favour of an unconditional extension of the Cotonou Agreement to include Cuba. The fact is, of course, that Louis Michel is on friendly terms with the Adolf Hitlers, the Stalins and the Maos of our time, for that is what Fidel Castro is like.


  Peter Šťastný (PPE-DE). – (SK) The situation in Cuba is very serious. People there are increasingly being denied fundamental human rights, and the number of political prisoners is increasing.

Europe could set a good example. As a Member of the European Parliament, who, together with my colleagues, Mrs Pleštinská and Mr Gaľa, has adopted a Cuban political prisoner, I am keen to see greater pressure exerted on Fidel Castro through international public opinion. I would like to believe that one of the first decisions made under the pressure of public opinion would be to release political prisoners who are mistreated and exposed to inhumane conditions in prisons.

This is one of the reasons why I support the draft resolution concerning the European Union position vis-à-vis the Cuban Government, paragraph 9 of which refers to sanctions being re-imposed on Cuba by the European Union Council. I do not know why the sanctions were temporarily suspended on 31 January 2005, since paragraph 1 of the draft clearly states that Cuba has not achieved any significant improvement in human rights since 2003. Was it a reward for ignorance or were there other interests involved ?

I would like to believe that this time the Council will re-impose sanctions more effectively. To ensure this, cooperation is required. Ideally, this would mean working primarily with the UN and the US Government. I understand that reaching a consensus in the UN is almost impossible, but sanctions coordinated with the United States, and perhaps Canada, might bring about the necessary outcome. Mr President, the European Union and its institutions cannot, and will never be, indifferent to the destiny of millions living under conditions of repression and to the many people suffering horrific prison conditions.


  Margrietus van den Berg (PSE). – (NL) Mr President, it was in 2005 that Castro and Mr Roque themselves first raised the subject of post-Castro Cuba. Meanwhile, the Cuban people are sick and tired of fighting to keep their heads above water, and the lives of the small groups of Cubans who have the courage to become politically or socially active are made hell. Europe must speak with one voice in Havana against the serious human rights violations and in favour of a dialogue with the authorities on political and economic reforms to prevent the achievements in the areas of health care and education in the first years of the revolution from going to waste.

That dialogue must also, however, put an end to the totalitarian regime and the blockade on economic reforms. Only in that way can Cubans, by means of their own initiatives, agriculture and small markets, regain a prospect of the better and violence-free times ahead that will not come from Miami. Europe must now give thought to offering post-Castro Cuba a social, economic and democratic perspective. Mr Solana, the Commission and the Council must enter into dialogue with it. We have to combine all our efforts and focus on human rights and a dialogue that offers plenty of new perspectives. It is up to Castro and Roque to show what they are made of and join in it.

I was in Cuba in January, from where the ‘Damas de Blanco’ send their warmest greetings and are delighted with the prize we awarded them.


  András Gyürk (PPE-DE). – (HU) ‘Tyranny is most afraid of those who practice freedom' – the words of José Martín, a hero of the 19th century fight for Cuban independence, are still as relevant today as they were when he uttered them. We can also add that apart from its own opposition, a dictatorship is also afraid of those who practice freedom in other countries. Therefore we, the representatives of European democracies, must be aware of our especially great responsibility when discussing one of the last Communist regimes.

As a personal thought, please allow me to add that as a young Hungarian politician, I am extremely aware of this responsibility, because my generation was brought up by our parents and grandparents against the background of a Socialist dictatorship similar to that in Cuba. We also owe it to them to stand up firmly for our principles.

By now it has become clear that last year’s lifting of the coercive measures taken against Cuba failed to bring the desired results, and it only prompted the Cuban Government to step up oppression. Arrests have been on-going, and in 2005 approximately 30 members of the opposition were imprisoned, which means that by now the number of those detained for their political views in often inhuman circumstances has exceeded 300. Therefore, depictions of a comic-opera dictatorship led by a jovial parlour revolutionary are false. In the meantime, foreign observers are not allowed to travel to the country, a fact that I have recently experienced myself. Last year, like several other fellow MEPs, I was refused the entry visa to attend a meeting of the opposition. In case we have not known it so far, we can now learn the fact that a dictatorship – be it rightist or leftist – does not allow compromises. This is another reason why we cannot support the lifting of coercive measures.

History is an unequivocal witness: the opposition movements of the former Socialist block could not have reached their goals without the stimulation of the Western European democracies. Today it falls on the reunited Europe to give strength to all those who are representing the values of democracy in the shadow of dictatorship.


  Filip Andrzej Kaczmarek (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, there is a Polish saying that a rich man cannot understand a poor man. Nonetheless, those of us who know how it feels to be denied one’s freedom find it easier to understand what is happening in Cuba at the moment. Those opposed to adopting a hard line towards Cuba argue that there would be negative consequences for the ordinary people. I wonder if they have bothered to find out what the people of Cuba think? Does Castro bother about what Cubans think?

In the 1980s the Polish Communists responded to US economic sanctions that were also supposed to have negative consequences for ordinary Poles by announcing, by way of retaliation, that they would send a thousand sleeping bags to the homeless of New York. What was the reaction of ordinary people in Poland? Small adverts began to appear in the press, offering to exchange spacious flats in Warsaw for sleeping bags in New York. Many Cubans seem to be thinking along the same lines, and Havana is much closer to New York than Warsaw.

If major revolutionaries like Fidel Castro are treated gently, they interpret it as a sign of weakness. Surely the time has come to demonstrate that Europe is not weak? It is time to understand that Cuba cannot be dealt with like an untouchable totalitarian fortress. If Castro continues to refuse to allow the recipients of the Sakharov prize to travel to Cuba, then we should not travel to Cuba as if nothing had happened.

In my view, we ought to persuade Europeans not to make Cuba a holiday destination, in other words, not to go there as tourists. Cuba is not an appropriate place for a holiday. Nobody goes on holiday to Auschwitz or to a gulag. It would be absurd. It is just as absurd to contribute to a tourist industry that is helping prop up a regime where violation of human rights is the order of the day.


  Anna Záborská (PPE-DE). – (SK) Two events dating back to December 2005 characterise the situation in Cuba: the Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Cuban authorities forbade them to leave the country and receive the prize in person. Freedom of thought is not rewarded in Cuba. This is strong proof that the prize had been given to the right people. The Sakharov Prize was awarded to the wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners who were guilty only of free thought.

The release of all political prisoners in Cuba remains the central demand of the Ladies in White movement. Nowadays, when many parts of the world are shaken by violence, war and terror, it is very encouraging to see a group of unarmed women being able to exert great moral pressure through non-violent means.

Coming from a region that only a few years ago was ruled by a communist regime which also imprisoned people for thinking freely, I can confirm that support from democratic countries has immense significance. Therefore, I would urge democratic European institutions to use all peaceful means at their disposal to bring pressure to bear on the Castro regime and to force it to release people imprisoned only because of independent thinking. The policy of prevarications and concessions pursued vis-à-vis one of the least democratic regimes in the world only prolongs the suffering of the people there and the infringements of human rights.

By supporting the democratic opposition in Cuba and applying constant pressure on the Castro regime, Europe can secure respect for democratic principles in this socialist country. If EU efforts to bring about democratic changes are to succeed and be effective, we need to formulate an unambiguous position on how to achieve these changes and how to establish democracy in Cuba.


  Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this debate: I have listened attentively and taken on board a number of points for myself and for the Council. It seems to me that we are called upon to continue to defend actively the values that the European Union represents – respect for human rights, and the defence of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.

I have also noted the House’s desire that we should continue to provide active support to the peaceful opposition and that we should press for the release of prisoners.

It is nevertheless a fact – and we must acknowledge this – that our options are limited if Cuba does not show at least a minimum level of goodwill. And, to be honest, the confrontation and embargo policy that has sometimes been proposed in the past has also not brought the desired results. We therefore think that we should continue with our policy of critical dialogue, involvement and encouraging reform.


  President. To end the debate, I have received six motions for resolutions(1) pursuant to Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11.00 a.m.


(1) See Minutes.

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