EU postpones decision on Cuba sanctions
Mon Jun 16, 2008 6:34pm BST
By Ingrid Melander
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers postponed a
decision on whether to lift sanctions on Cuba on Monday, leaving it to a
summit of the 27-nation bloc later in the week.
Foreign Minister of Spain Miguel Angel Moratinos said Germany and other
countries asked for more time to decide on the sensitive move, which
would put the EU at odds with Washington's calls for a release of
The EU measures were imposed after a crackdown on dissent in 2003 and
include a freeze on visits by high-level officials. However unlike the
1962 U.S. embargo, they do not prevent trade and investment.
The sanctions were formally suspended in 2005 but abolition would be
seen as encouragement by the EU for a more reforms by Cuban President
Raul Castro, who took over after the February 24 retirement of his
Former colonial power Spain has long led calls for an end to the EU
sanctions. Moratinos said he was hopeful the bloc would lift the
sanctions this week and Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb saw
"a clear majority" for such a move.
"The most likely is that Thursday we'll be able to … lift definitively
the 2003 sanctions and launch a dialogue on human rights, including with
the Cuban authorities," Moratinos said.
But the move would require all EU states to agree. It has met resistance
from the bloc's ex-communist members, led by the Czech Republic.
"For us, in the question of human rights, Cuba has to move too," Foreign
Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told reporters of Czech demands for the
release of political prisoners.
Earlier on, a Czech diplomat had signalled a compromise may be possible
later this week by suggesting it was open to lifting sanctions under
"We can lift the sanctions if delegations (travelling to Cuba) meet with
the democratic opposition and if they discuss democracy and human rights
with government authorities," the diplomat said in Luxembourg.
Changes in Cuba include new rules allowing Cubans to buy cell phones and
an increase in public debate. Critics dismiss the changes as merely
Lifting EU sanctions would put the bloc at odds with Washington over
Cuba policy. President George W. Bush told an EU-U.S. summit in Slovenia
last week the communist island needed to free political prisoners before
relations could go forward.
Between them, EU capitals struck different notes on Cuba. Whereas
France's Bernard Kouchner said he was personally in favour of lifting
the sanctions, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini insisted Cuba
must improve its human rights record.
"What is very important is to reaffirm the full respect of human rights
in Cuba," said. "We cannot accept the idea that we'll lift the sanctions
and they don't liberate prisoners."
(Additional reporting by Mark John and Paul Taylor; Editing by Paul Taylor)