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Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA): EU Recognizes Significance of Reforms under Raúl Castro and Inefficiency of Sanctions: Will the US be as Clever?

June 23, 2008
2:15 PM

CONTACT: Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)

EU Recognizes Significance of Reforms under Raúl Castro and Inefficiency of Sanctions:
Will the US be as Clever?
WASHINGTON, DC - June 23 - On June 19, 2008, the European Union (EU) unanimously voted to lift its 2003 diplomatic sanctions against Cuba despite the traditional destructive negativity of countries like the Czech Republic and Sweden who affirm that Raúl Castro has not implemented sufficient reforms to warrant this measure. The sanctions limited the ability of high-level government officials to visit Cuba and participate in its cultural events while establishing amicable relations with Cuban dissidents. This decision, spearheaded by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, aims to encourage further liberalization through dialogue that is “unconditional, reciprocal, non-discriminatory and results-oriented… in the context of the recent changes initiated by President Raúl Castro.” It calls upon Cuban authorities to protect human rights and release political prisoners while resuming economic aid to the island. In a year, the EU will review the island’s progress and, if this measure proves ineffective, they can reconsider their strategy to further encourage the democratization process.

However, this decision has drawn criticism from Cuban dissidents and put the EU at odds with Washington’s foreign policy. Tom Casey, deputy spokesman of the US State Department, has argued that Raúl’s reforms are purely cosmetic and that lifting the sanctions before the release of political prisoners will legitimize the new Castro regime. Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa stated that the EU’s decision will signal to the Cuban government that “it pays to be intransigent and inflexible.” Although Cuba is still far from being a liberal democracy, to label the reforms implemented by Raúl Castro as inconsequential is a narrow-minded claim. Opposition groups are tolerated, homosexuality is no longer a crime, some Cubans received titles to their homes, the socialist salary cap has been eliminated, and agriculture has been decentralized. In addition, political prisoners have been released, thirty death sentences have been commuted, and capital punishment has been unofficially abolished. Alone, these events might seem minor but taken together, they provide genuine hope for the creation of a new Cuba.

The EU sanctions were imposed as a way to pressure the Cuban government to moderate and democratize. However, they were utterly ineffective. Not even the US economic embargo, which severely hurt the Cuban economy, was effective in coercing Fidel Castro to protect human rights and a representative government. The embargo’s only accomplishments were alienating and further deteriorating the quality of life of the average Cuban. One should not forget that the rationing system was implemented due to the lack of food and supplies that accompanied the economic hardship caused by the embargo. This hard-line approach to the Cuban revolutionary government has failed miserably. It is time for a different tactic.

By lifting the sanctions, the EU is not merely opening the path to dialogue, but it is also increasing its ability to exercise leverage over Raúl Castro and help him consolidate the island’s transition to an open and democratic society. These sanctions against Havana were not being enforced, so maintaining them would have been meaningless. Officially eliminating them, however, is an enormous act of good faith that has the potential to restore the Cuban government’s connection to the international community. The question now remains: is the US willing to follow suit or will it maintain its uncompromising and failed stance that has only hurt the Cuban people?

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Michelle Quiles

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.”


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