Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 1 News List

EU officially drops Cuba sanctions to US’ chagrin

AGENCIES , LUXEMBOURG AND MADRID

The EU officially lifted its sanctions on Cuba on Monday in the hope of encouraging democracy on the island in the post-Fidel Castro era, in a move decried by Washington and Cuban dissidents.

“The problems that came up during the day have been resolved. The decision has been adopted,” a spokesman for Slovenian, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc said, referring to a procedural error that had briefly delayed the move.

The measure was a largely symbolic political step as the EU sanctions have been suspended since 2005. It was championed by Spain, which normalized relations with Cuba last year.

The political decision was taken by EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Thursday, but the move received formal endorsement at a meeting of European agriculture ministers in Luxembourg.

Earlier, the wrong version of the text for the decision was presented, causing a delay, the Slovenian spokesman said. The Swedish delegation noticed that an annex with conditions on the lifting of the sanctions was missing.

Among the conditions tied to the lifting of the sanctions, which restricted high-level diplomatic contacts, was a clause obliging the EU to review the human rights situation in the communist-ruled island yearly.

The sanctions were applied in 2003 after a crackdown on dissidents in Cuba under its former president Fidel Castro, whose brother Raul formally took over this year.

Twenty of the 75 dissidents jailed in that crackdown have since been freed.

Washington said last week it was “disappointed” by the EU decision to lift sanctions against what it views as a repressive dictatorship.

“We think the Castros need to take a number of steps to improve the human rights conditions for ordinary Cubans before any sanctions are lifted,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Leading Cuban dissidents also expressed disappointment, fearing further crackdowns.

“We are going to expect horrible things to happen to the opposition,” Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the released dissidents, said.

With the sanctions in place, “the government was tremendously aggressive with us and with the people — now that [the sanctions] have been eliminated, their aggression will double,” she said.

“The EU has shown its independence and its autonomy on foreign policy because, before and after the decision, there were statements from the White House indicating its direct opposition,” said Diego Lopez Garrido, Spain’s secretary of state for the EU. “The White House has made it known to EU countries that it does not like this move at all.”

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