Thursday, May 26, 2005

When will the EU wake up?

As is his wont, Castro did not play nice with EU parliamentarians who wanted to see grassroots democracy in action in Cuba. Several delegates were expelled from the ageing dictator's property. Surprisingly, the EU appeared not to have expected this to happen and is acting unhappy. I wonder for how long their ire will last?

By the by: what is even more interesting is that the Cuban's dissidents were able to hold their meeting at all. According to Castro's behaviour patterns in the past, this means that another crackdown is forthcoming. Stay tuned.

Below: Two reports by the Spiegel, taken from here and here, and translated.

Expelled parliamentarian attacks EU

CDU member of parliament Arnold Vaatz has criticised the policies of the European Union towards Cuba after being expelled from the island nation. The EU has made itself an "accomplice" of Castro's regime, he said.

The Cuban government was now exploiting the manoeuvring space that politicians such as Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and others had opened up by lifting diplomatic sanctions, Vaatz told the "Leipziger Volkszeitung". "In this way, the EU has made itself an accomplice of the regime", the CDU politician said.

Vaatz, deputy chairman of the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, wanted to meet with representatives of the Cuban opposition. He was evicted from the country in Havana on Thursday, brought to the airport and put on a plane to Madrid. The [German] federal government subsequently cited the Cuban ambassador in Berlin for talks at the foreign ministry.

Vaatz said he wanted to break the contact ban with Cuban dissidents. "And that was accomplished", he emphasised. In the "Sächsische Zeitung", which is published in Dresden, he called on the EU to start inviting Cuban dissidents to events at the European embassies in Havana again.

Vaatz said he was reminded of the German Democratic Republic [former communist East Germany] while in Cuba. He was prevented from making telephone calls and was unable to make contact with the German embassy. Afterwards, he was held for five hours with the Czech delegate Karel Schwarzenberg in a small bus in an underground parking lot and then put on a plane to Madrid.

Vaatz commented that there was a wide-spread "Cuba romanticism" in Europe. This was part of a virtual Cuba that the government of that country was trying to present to the global public. "What's really terrible about this is that parts of the European public are willing to fall for this virtual Cuba. Just like they were prepared to fall for the virtual socialism in the GDR", Vaatz told the "Sächsische Zeitung".

EU condemns expelling of German parliamentarian
By Carsten Volkery

Today, the biggest congress of the Cuban opposition ever held began in Havana. CDU member of parliament Arnold Vaatz wanted to participate, but was expelled -- just like several other politicians. The head of the EU's representation in Havana told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the éclat would have diplomatic consequences.

Vaatz and a Czech senator, Prince Karel Schwarzenberg, were invited for dinner yesterday at the Czech residence in Havana. But the diplomats who were attending the event waited in vain. "We had no idea where they were", Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, head of the EU representation in Havana, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Calls of the diplomats to the Cuban government were in vain. Only investigations made with the airlines Iberia and Air France brought certainty: Vaatz and Schwarzenberg had been expelled. The Cuban police had fetched them at their hotels and brought them straight to the airport.

"At 5:45 p.m., a policeman in uniform and a plainclothes policeman entered my hotel room together with a hotel employee who translated from Spanish into English. The policemen told me that it was a passport control", Vaatz told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). His passport and his airline ticket were taken from him. His requests to speak to the German ambassador received no response. Instead, he was driven to the airport and put on the plane to Madrid.

Expelled "in terms of Cuban law"

The crime of the two politicians: they were on the island with tourist visas and wanted to visit a congress of civil rights activists that began today. The meeting, which 500 participants were expected to attend, was the first large meeting of the Cuban opposition. It was being held in the garden of a civil rights activist where additional toilets had already been put up. Such meetings are illegal, as is taking part in them.

"Vaatz and Schwarzenberg were expelled in terms of the Cuban legal reality", Kühn von Burgsdorff explained. Four years ago, a Czech delegate was even imprisoned for three months after he had travelled to Cuba on a tourist visa and met with independent journalists.

Nonetheless, the eviction was of course "not legitimate", said Kühn von Burgsdorff. "This will definitely not make the dialogue with the EU any easier." A speaker of the EU Commission in Brussels called the eviction unacceptable. The EU will revise its policy towards Cuba in June. New sanctions against the island are a possibility.

There had recently been a rapprochement between the EU and Cuba at the initiative of Spain after the so-called "Cocktail Wars" had been resolved: several EU states, among them Germany, declined to invite dissidents to the New Year's reception at their embassies in the future. Cuba subsequently announced it was resuming diplomatic relationships, which had previously been put on ice.

"Typical behaviour of a totalitarian state"

Just before his plane departed, Schwarzenberg was able to tell an AP reporter via cellphone that "This is the typical behaviour of a totalitarian state". Vaatz, former GDR civil rights activist, spoke of a "violation of international law". He had been in Cuba since Whitmonday and had already met several dissidents, in my capacity as a "private individual", as Vaatz emphasised.

German foreign minister Joschka Fischer condemned the eviction. It was a "legitimate concern" of a German domestic politician to speak to the entire political spectrum in Cuba. This had been conveyed to the Cuban ambassador, who was cited to the Foreign Ministry.

The congress, which is taking place in a suburb of Havana, is being organised by the Cuban civil rights activists Martha Beatríz Roque, René Gómez, and Félix Bonne. Roque was one of 75 dissidents who were arrested in 2003. This occurrence had led to the freezing of relationships between Cuba and the EU. Roque was released on bail. If arrested again, she faces 20 years in prison.

Castro keeps Havel and Gorbachev at arm's length

From the start, Castro's government had prevented foreign observers from travelling to the event. According to the EU representation in Havana, it denied 43 French delegates the corresponding visas. Similarly, the Cuban government declined issuing visas to two dozen EU members of parliament. The most prominent visa denials went to former Czech civil rights activist and president Vaclav Havel and the former Soviet state president Michail Gorbachev. On Tuesday, two Polish delegates had already been expelled.

The CDU/CSU parliamentary group's spokesperson on foreign affairs, Friedbert Pflüger, sharply condemned the eviction of the policitians and demanded a more critical attitude of the [German] federal government concerning the Castro regime. "Once again, it has been shown that silence and trying to curry favour do not work", Pflüger told the "Welt" newspaper.

The SPD parliamentary group's spokesperson on Latin America, Lothar Mark, deplored the incident "fundamentally" in speaking to SPIEGEL ONLINE, but did not want to state a position as long as the report of the German ambassador in Havan was not available.

Attachés from several European embassies will participate in the congress. The EU representation is also represented with two observers.

The meeting is splitting the Cuban dissident scene. Although it will probably be the largest opposition meeting ever to be held under Castro, several of the most famous names will be staying away, among them Oswaldo Paya, speaker of the "Christian Liberation Movement". The event was a "huge fraud" because it was being supported by radical Cuban exiles from Florida and would therefore damage the reputation of the Cuban protest movement, Paya wrote in a press release.

Paya and Roque have been linked through personal dislike for a long time. Roque had sabotaged Paya's two big civil rights initiatives, the Varela Project and the National Dialogue.

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