Thursday, 12 February 2004

Ceisteanna (73)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

49 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make statement on the relationship of the European Union with Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4309/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

The basis for the European Union's relationship with Cuba is set out in the EU common position, which aims to encourage, through dialogue rather than isolation, a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a lasting economic recovery and an improvement in living standards of the Cuban people.

In this context, the deterioration in the human rights situation in Cuba during the past year is greatly to be deplored. I refer in particular to the summary trial and lengthy prison sentences imposed on 75 dissidents for exercising their right to freedom of speech, as well as the summary trial and rapid execution of three hijackers of a ferry boat, in breach of international minimum standards for the implementation of the death penalty.

These grave violations by the Cuban authorities of international human rights standards caused the EU to implement the following diplomatic measures on 5 June 2003: a limitation on bilateral high-level Governmental visits; a reduction in the profile of participation in cultural events; the inviting of Cuban dissidents to national day events at EU embassies in Havana; and the decision to proceed to an early re-evaluation of the EU common position, six months before the due date.

On 16 June 2003, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, adopted conclusions in which it reaffirmed its grave concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners. Referring to certain provocative conduct on the part of the Cuban authoritiesvis-à-vis the EU and its member states, the Council made it clear that it regarded such behaviour as unacceptable. This was a reference to the fact that official mass demonstrations, headed by President Castro, had been mounted against the embassies of two member states in Havana, and that the Cuban state media had conducted an unacceptable campaign of personal vilification against certain EU heads of Government.

The human rights situation in Cuba was deemed to be so serious that the matter was taken up by heads of state and government at the European Council on 20 June 2003. Endorsing the GAERC conclusions of 16 June, the European Council reiterated the EU's deep concern regarding the violation of fundamental freedoms in Cuba. Heads of state and government also deplored and rejected the "totally unacceptable behaviour of the Cuban authorities vis-à-vis at the EU and its Member States”.

Notwithstanding this unacceptable conduct on the part of the Cuban authorities, on 21 July 2003 the GAERC reconfirmed the positive objectives of the common position as I have outlined them above, and also reaffirmed the validity of constructive engagement with Cuba, to be continued through political dialogue so that tangible results might be achieved, particularly in the political, economic and human rights spheres.

During the six months of the Irish Presidency, I will be open to any viable opportunity to advance relations with Cuba on the basis of the EU Common Position.