27 January 2005
Following the release of 14 dissidents in 2004 and the Cuban authorities’ recent decision to renew relations with European Union (EU) countries, you will decide on 31 January with your counterparts from the 24 other member countries on a review of the June 2003 measures taken against Cuba. Reporters Without Borders wishes to draw your attention to the absence of noticeable progress in respect for press freedom in this country and urges you to decide to maintain and even extend the policy of support for dissidents.
Our organisation obviously welcomed the release of Raúl Rivero and three other journalists a few weeks ago. But 22 of their colleagues are still detained, which makes Cuba the world’s biggest prison for the press after China, with 26 journalists detained.
The EU member states condemned the poor prison conditions of Cuba’s political detainees in July 2003 and voiced concern about their health problems. It is now nearly two years since their arrest, yet these prisons conditions have not changed and the state of health of several of the detained journalists is worrying. Normando Hernández González, who is held in the western province of Pinar del Río, was recently transferred to a hospital after tests showed he has contracted tuberculosis. Those of his fellow journalists who are not in prison are banned from being published in Cuba and are subject to constant harassment aimed at forcing them into exile.
To make their voices heard, the European Union member states decided to reduce their cooperation with the Cuban authorities, limit high-level governmental visits of a bilateral nature, reduce the importance of the participation by member states in cultural ceremonies and invite Cuban dissidents to events organised for national day celebrations.
While the European Union Committee on Latin America (COLAT) advocates the suspension of these measures, Reporters Without Borders is calling for them to be maintained or even strengthened. Firstly because these measures, especially the invitations to attend official functions, extricate the dissidents from the confrontation between Cuba and the United States, in which President Castro’s government tries to enclose them.
Secondly because the Castro regime has never made any concessions on respect for human rights and political pluralism in the course of political dialogue. The Cuban government currently shows no sign that a resumption of dialogue would result in significant progress in these areas. Indeed, there has never been such extensive dialogue between the European Union and Cuba as during the months preceding the March 2003 "Black Spring," when Cuba had been on the point of benefiting from the Cotonou Accords.
Furthermore, the Cuban government’s announcement that it has normalised relations with the EU in no way constitutes a concession as it was Cuba that broke them off in reprisal for the measures adopted by the EU.
The European Union can no longer content itself with condemning the jailing of political prisoners. It must now reinforce its support for the democrats in Cuba who fight for recognition and respect for basic freedoms and a multiparty system. As with the former Soviet bloc countries that are now EU members, Cuba’s future will depend on the strength of civil society. Without closing the door to the Cuban authorities once they show real signs of an opening to dialogue (such as an end to the state monopoly of news and information), the European Union must develop cooperation programmes aimed at the dissidents.
That is why Reporters Without Borders hopes that you will decide in favour of maintaining the measures adopted after the wave of arrests in March 2003 and recommend more active support for the democrats and civil society that is now being repressed.
I trust that you will give our appeal your careful consideration.