There are 213 days until Jan. 20, 2009.
Defying U.S. , EU scraps Cuba sanctions
By Ingrid Melander and David Brunnstrom
Thu Jun 19, 6:18 PM ET
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states agreed on
Thursday to scrap sanctions against Cuba but will insist
the Communist island improves its human rights record,
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.
The decision, taken despite U.S. calls for the world to
remain tough on Havana , will be reviewed after one year, EU sources said.
"Cuban sanctions will be lifted," Ferrero-Waldner told
reporters after foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc
clinched agreement at a summit dinner in Brussels .
"Of course there is clear language on human rights, on
the detention of prisoners and there will have to be a
review also," she said, referring to statement to be issued later.
The EU measures, which triggered a so-called "cocktail
war" over invitations of dissidents and government
officials to European embassy receptions, were imposed
after a crackdown on dissent in 2003 and include a
freeze on high-level visits.
The sanctions were suspended in 2005 but their abolition
is an attempt to encourage more reforms by President
Raul Castro, who took over after the February 24
retirement of his brother Fidel.
There are about 230 political prisoners in Cuba ,
according to the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission
for Human Rights.
Unlike the 1962 U.S. embargo, the EU sanctions do not
prevent trade and investment. Lifting the sanctions will
put the EU at odds with Washington , which wants to
maintain a hard line against Cuba .
"We certainly don't see any kind of fundamental break
with the Castro dictatorship that would give us reason
to believe that now would be the time to lift
sanctions," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey
said on Thursday.
"We would not be supportive of the EU or anyone else
easing those restrictions at this time."
Spain had led the push for a softening in policy towards
Cuba but met resistance from the bloc's ex-communist
members, led by the Czech Republic .
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who has raised
concerns about being too lenient on Cuba , said earlier
there would be strict conditions.
"We are going to have some fairly tough demands on the
Cubans," he said. Cuba needs to implement key U.N. human
rights conventions and release political prisoners, he added.
EU sources said the decision to lift the sanctions and
pursue a dialogue with Cuba would be reviewed after a
year and there would have to be unanimous agreement to
main the dialogue.
"Following that date, the dialogue will continue if the
Council decides that this has been effective," one
source quoted the agreed text as saying.
An earlier draft seen by Reuters calls on Cuban
authorities to improve human rights, including by
releasing unconditionally political prisoners, ratifying
U.N. rights conventions and giving humanitarian
organizations access to Cuban jails.
(Additional reporting by Mark John, Paul Taylor and
Washington bureau; editing by Paul Taylor and Andrew Roche)