1st February 2005
Dear Mr President,
Reporters Without Borders wishes to inform you of its deep disappointment that the EU council of foreign ministers on 31 January 2005 agreed to a six-month suspension of EU sanctions* that were adopted in June 2003 to protest at the March 2003 arrest of 75 dissidents and journalists.
In a letter sent to the representatives of the 25 member states on 27 January, our organisation urged that the policy of supporting the dissidents should be "maintained and even strengthened" in view of "the absence of any noticeable progress in respect for freedom of the press in the country."
Even if the 31 January decision envisages developing more intense relations with the peaceful political opposition and broader layers of civil society in Cuba, it constitutes a step backwards by ending invitations to dissidents to member states’ national day celebrations. This aspect in particular allowed dissidents to step out of the Cuba-US standoff in which President Castro’s government attempts to confine them.
We urge you to rigorously monitor the situation so that the announced intensification of relations with the opposition and Cuban civil society is not limited simply to meetings. We expect the EU, for example to be represented at the dissidents’ general meeting on 20 May, called by the (unofficial) Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society headed by economist Marta Beatriz Roque.
We also urge you to ensure that European cooperation programmes with Cuba also benefit civil society that is not recognised by the authorities. It seems to us essential that, to work for a peaceful democratic transition, the EU support independent press agencies, trade unions, organisations of librarians, doctors, economists and so on, whose freedom of association, meeting and expression are constantly trampled.
Reporters Without Borders considers that the EU must take these steps now, making the Cuban authorities understand that if they oppose them sanctions would have to be re-applied.
Failure to take such steps would mean that the EU decision would effectively look like "caving in" to the Cuban government, which is the fear of a section of the Cuban opposition. We remind you that the release of around a dozen dissidents in 2004 was not accompanied by any significant progress towards respect for political freedom and multi-parties. Sixty-one of the 75 dissidents and journalists arrested in March 2003, whose release the EU has demanded, are still in prison.
Our organisation hopes that you will make yourself personally responsible for this case. Reporters Without Borders will be particularly vigilant about the results of the EU decision.
I trust that you will give this letter your careful consideration.
*To press for the release of the 75 journalists and dissidents arrested in March 2003, EU member states decided on 5 June 2003, to cut back cooperation with the Cuban authorities, to limit high level bilateral government visits, to reduce the size of member states participation at cultural events and to invite Cuban dissidents to national day celebrations. The 75 dissidents were sentenced in the days following their arrest to jail terms ranging from six to 28 years in prison.