Other Questions. - Economic Sanctions.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

10 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the changes he favours in the Common Position of the European Union towards Cuba. [3752/02]

Seán Ryan

Question:

34 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's attitude towards the economic sanctions being implemented against Cuban people; the initiatives in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3751/02]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

51 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the United States economic embargo against Cuba should be ended; and his further views on whether the European Union Common Position which precludes a co-operation agreement with Cuba, should be modified. [3724/02]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 10, 34 and 51 together.

Deputies are aware of the Government's very clear position regarding the US economic embargo against Cuba. Ireland is opposed to the embargo and wishes to see it brought to an end. Together with our partners in the EU, we have regularly supported the resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for its lifting, most recently on 27 November last when the resolution was carried by 167 votes in favour to three against, with three abstentions. It is hoped attention will be paid to the overwhelming majority voice of the General Assembly.

Deputies will recall that there was a limited easing of the embargo in October 2000, when the US Congress voted to approve measures lifting restrictions on the sale of food and medicines. Although US financial institutions remain prohibited from extending credits for sales to Cuba, this vote represented the first breach in the principle of the embargo. Cuba recently paid approximately $35 million to purchase food from US companies in the aftermath of Hurricane Mich elle. While Cuban authorities have indicated that this was a once-off measure, it is nevertheless evidence that the partial relaxation of the embargo has, at least in this instance, had some positive benefits for the Cuban people. Ireland and the EU will continue to call for the embargo to be lifted in its entirety.

As I have previously acknowledged, there is a perception of inconsistency between the position adopted by Ireland and its EU partners at the UN in opposition to the US economic embargo against Cuba, and the EU Common Position on Cuba which continues to find, in its regular evaluations of the situation in that country, that conditions are not yet ripe there for the establishment of the kind of special partnership which the EU maintains with other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. I contend that there is no such inconsistency. Unlike the US, the EU operates no sanctions against Cuba. On the contrary, member states carry on normal relations with Havana across the full spectrum of contacts, from trade to culture. In fact, the 15 member states have actively developed an economic relationship with the island so that the EU is now Cuba's leading foreign investor, principal trade partner, premier source of tourists, and largest provider of development aid and humanitarian assistance.

The EU cannot yet advance beyond normal relations to the kind of special relationship represented by the structured co-operation agreements which have been negotiated with other countries in the region, although it wishes to do so. The co-operation agreements are partnerships based on shared values of respect for democracy and human rights. Regrettably, the authorities in Havana do not at this time share the Union's view of these values. In its most recent annual report on Cuba, Amnesty International stated that:

Individuals and groups peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to face repression. Some conditional releases of prisoners of conscience gave rise to hopes that the attitude of the Cuban Government towards dissidents might be thawing, but new sentences and a serious escalation in repression during the closing months of 2000 discouraged such optimism. Journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders were subjected to severe harassment. Several hundred people, at least 13 of whom were prisoners of conscience, remained imprisoned for political offences. The authorities continued to use short-term detention, house arrest, threats and harassment to stifle and discourage political dissent.

As the House is aware, the EU General Affairs Council conducts a close and careful evaluation of the conditions in Cuba at regular six-monthly intervals. Following the latest assessment, the Council found, on 10 December last, that the situation in Cuba remains "seriously wanting as regards the recognition and application of civil and political freedoms and the refusal of the Cuban authorities to contemplate reforms leading to a political system based on those values". The Council, therefore, was on this occasion reluctantly obliged once again to renew the Common Position, pending a change in Cuban policy regarding human rights and freedoms which would enable Havana to accept the standards applied by the EU to all countries without any discrimination, wishing to have the kind of enhanced relationship with the Union inherent in an institutionalised co-operation agreement.

Nevertheless, the Council is encouraged by the fact that Havana, having suspended a long-standing political dialogue with the EU in April 2000, following the support by EU member states for a resolution critical of Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, recently agreed to renewal of dialogue. An initial meeting took place in December 2001, when the EU troika led by the Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, visited Havana. This renewed dialogue offers some hope that progress can be made in the coming period. The EU has made clear that it expects to see meaningful indications from the Cuban Government that it will move to respect international norms in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for example the principles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. If Havana were to sign these two covenants and to respect their provisions, the way might well open up towards changes in the Common Position which could lead to the negotiation of a fully fledged, mutually beneficial co-operation agreement.

Having listened to the Minister's reply, more than 90% of which deals with human rights in Cuba, I wish to ask him a simple question. If one was a Cuban citizen and one saw the greatest power in the world opposing a resolution carried in the General Assembly with 167 votes in favour, three against and three abstentions, and if one accepts that the economic blockade is in breach of international trade law and many principles of general international law, what incentive is there for the Cuban Government to renew the dialogue with enthusiasm?

I support the advancement of human rights, but why is there no review of the Common Position which takes into account the obdurate insistence on the part of the US on an illegal blockade of Cuba? The Minister's reply placed great emphasis on those areas in which Cuba falls short, but why is there so little concern at the General Affairs Council at the continuation of a blockade which is recognised as illegal and which is so flagrantly in breach of international opinion?

I gave the details in that manner because I was asked to make a statement on the changes in the EU's Common Position towards Cuba, which I favour. I made the point that the position has not been static, but there has been a renewal of dialogue. I made the specific suggestion that the signing of two covenants would further increase the prospect of changing the Common Position.

I stated at the outset that we do not agree with the US embargo. The EU takes its own positions and does not have an embargo in place. Ireland is trading with Cuba and dealing with it bilaterally and in the context of the EU in terms of development assistance and so on. The focus of the question was whether the EU has any ideas as to how it might introduce some dynamic into the Common Position which might be helpful, and that is what I addressed.

I disagree that there is an inconsistency in our position at the UN and in the EU because we do not support the embargo. We vote, but countries such as the US have a different view as regards bilateral relations with Cuba which goes back many presidencies. As a member of the EU, my job is to see what constructive proposals Ireland can make towards developing the Common Position. The enhanced partnership arrangements with Cuba will be dealt with in the same way as with other Latin American and Caribbean countries.

There is a requirement regarding membership of the EU called the Copenhagen criteria and as regards our partnership arrangements under which these kind of values must also be addressed. This is not just an EU issue. Amnesty International has a view on this, but that does not mean I agree with the US position which is different.

I totally disagree with the US position on this issue. The embargo is ridiculous. I agree with Deputy Higgins that it is in breach of international law. This changes the entire context. The embargo will go when Fidel Castro and Jesse Helms no longer have the control they now enjoy. The EU will then find itself in a ridiculous situation as the US embargo will have been lifted, but we will still have the Common Position. The EU should take the lead on this issue and make every effort to help draw Cuba into the full international arena. I am in favour of entering a co-operation agreement with Cuba as early as possible.

I do not agree with the argument that we should change our position in the event a change in the US position. We have a position based on our values. If, as the Deputy contends, the US was going to reverse its policy overnight for the reasons he put forward, that is a matter for the US to explain, defend and deal with. I make no comment on that.

One cannot criticise the EU on the basis that, if the US changes its position, and I do not know whether that will happen, we have to throw out the basis on which we proceed. The logic of the EU position is clear. Some might ask if we can be more creative and dynamic. I have no problem trying to develop that strategy on the basis of the bilateral relations between member states and Cuba. The US holds a different position. From our point of view, I do not see the logic or principle behind the argument that we should forget the basis on which we are trying to develop and enhance these partnership arrangements because the US changes its position.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.