Europe Loves Castro

Louis Michel in Havana, 26 March 2005
The European Union is not considering a reintroduction of sanctions against Cuba, despite the wave of arrests of opponents of the Castro regime during the past weeks. The leftist French newspaper Le Monde recently called the crackdown “the most important operation against dissidents since 2003.” However, Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, who is an outspoken admirer of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, opposes all sanctions against Cuba. With the support of France, Michel, a Belgian, succeded in usurping the authority for policies relating to Cuba from the Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU Commissioner for External Relations.

When the EU lifted its sanctions against Cuba in January 2005 the member states agreed that Cuban officials would not be invited to receptions and other social gatherings at the European embassies in Havana as long as Cuba kept political opponents of the regime imprisoned. France, however, invited Cuban government representatives to a reception at the French embassy on 14 July. The recent wave of arrests in Cuba followed a demonstration of Cuban democrats in front of the French embassy on 23 July. The demonstrators protested against the normalisation of relations between Paris and Havana and demanded the release of all political prisoners. 68 political prisoners arrested on Castro’s orders in March and April 2003 are still in jail today.

When Louis Michel visited Cuba last March he told the pro-democracy activists to avoid “provoking” Castro.  Prior to his visit Amnesty International had asked Commissioner Michel to keep up pressure on the Cuban authorities to release all prisoners of conscience. “The limitation of freedom of expression, association and assembly are serious human rights violations. The EU must press Cuba to put an end to these violations immediately,” Amnesty International wrote.

Michel, however, said he was “very optimistic” about human rights on the communist island. He felt “encouraged by signs of change in Cuba.” He still feels the same today. Undoubtedly, if Cuba regains its freedom in the future, the Cubans will remember that they owe nothing to Europe.