Sunday, June 22, 2008

Defying U.S., EU scraps Cuba sanctions

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)

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