Wed, Jan 12, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Cuba re-establishes ties with EU despite dissident round-up

AFP , HAVANA

Cuba announced Monday that it is renewing official contacts with all EU countries, including those that took the hardest line against the communist government after its crackdown on dissidents.

The move announced by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque could bring to an end diplomatic hostilities that broke out in June 2003 after many EU nations started inviting dissident critics of President Fidel Castro to embassy cocktail parties.

Following new moves to improve ties, the European Commission recommended that the invitations be suspended until June and this is expected to be confirmed by an EU foreign ministers meeting at the end of January, diplomats said.

The EU has said it will "intensify" contacts with dissidents through other means.

"We can say that from this moment onward Cuba has re-established government-level official contacts with all European Union countries," Perez Roque told reporters.

Cuba announced on Jan. 3 it was renewing diplomatic contacts with Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Sweden, which were the first to suspend the dissident invitations.

Perez Roque announced Monday that his country was renewing ties with the remaining EU countries represented in Havana: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, as well as the European Commission delegation.

The last four countries had been among the most opposed to easing sanctions against Cuba.

Perez Roque said the move follows the decision by the EU "to rectify decisions that they took concerning Cuba in July 2003."

The European Commission quickly welcomed Cuba's decision and said that humanitarian aid and development commissioner Louis Michel will be sent to Havana soon to discuss bilateral relations, said a statement released by commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso.

The EU froze relations with Cuba in June 2003 following a crackdown that saw 75 dissidents rounded up and jailed for terms of between six and 28 years. Three Cubans found guilty of hijacking a ferry were executed.

Fourteen dissidents have since been freed in a move seen partly as a gesture to win over EU nations.

The renewal follows "the respectful request" made by Luxembourg, current holder of the EU presidency, Belgium, Spain and by Michel, the Cuban minister said.

Spain took the lead in seeking better relations with Cuba and it was taken off the Cuban blacklist on Nov. 25. Five days later leading Cuban dissident, Raul Rivero, was freed and five others soon followed.

On Dec. 14, the EU's Latin America committee called for intensified contacts with dissidents but a suspension of the invitations to official events at European embassies, mainly national day parties.

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