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Thursday, 22 April 2004 - Strasbourg OJ edition


  Sörensen (Verts/ALE ). (NL) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I am speaking personally and not on behalf of my group. Secondly, I am not the author of this resolution but am actually more opposed to it. I therefore want to throw another light on the topic.

I have recently been to Cuba to investigate possible ways of cooperating to combat trafficking in and smuggling of human beings. This phenomenon is a serious and pressing problem in Cuba too, and the Cuban Government is working hard on it. In the first two and a half months of this year no fewer than 30 people-smuggling operations were closed down and about 70 attempts to leave the country illegally were thwarted. Half of these involved people-smuggling. Furthermore, five people died in a dramatic attempt to reach the United States, one person is still missing and three were found alive.

People-trafficking generally involves fake marriages and false promises of work. Why do ordinary Cubans take such risks? When talking about people-trafficking we often use the terms 'push factor' and 'pull factor'. We know that poverty is the principal reason, the push factor, both social and economic poverty. As far as pull factors go, we almost immediately think of the force of attraction exerted by the rich West, in this case the United States. That picture is not entirely accurate. What promises do people-traffickers usually make? As in Europe, they promise the chance to earn more money, sometimes a lot more, and claim that their victims will be grateful to them. A rose-tinted picture, bearing little relation to reality, is painted.

US President Lyndon Johnson approved the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966. This law automatically gave all Cubans reaching the United States residence and employment rights after they had been in the US for a year. This is a clear pull factor, possibly the most important as far as Cuba is concerned. The assumption has always been that life in the United States, even for people on the breadline, is much better than life in Cuba. But the World Bank, not exactly known for its anti-American pronouncements, has praised Cuban healthcare and education. Compare this to the situation in the so-called Promised Land, the United States, where access to healthcare is far from universal, where affordable education is of low quality and where many prisons are privatised and outside democratic control. I have personal experience of this.

If we are to criticise the human rights situation in Cuba we must bear two things in mind. Who is criticising, and is the criticism reasonable and balanced? Listening to the official voice of the European Parliament over the past few months it is clear to me that double standards are being applied, as whenever values that we ourselves regard as universal come into the picture we suddenly take a very selective approach in the case of Cuba.

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