Tuesday, 30 January 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
86. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the further steps that can be taken to convince the United States of the need to lift its embargo on Cuba; his views on whether the EU common position on Cuba also now needs to be reviewed with a view to encouraging the ending of the international isolation of that country. [2152/01]
Mr. Cowen: First let me reiterate the Government's position on the US embargo against Cuba. We are opposed to it and we wish to see it brought to an early end. We have regularly supported resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for its lifting, most recently on 9 November last year when the resolution, co-sponsored by Ireland, was carried by 167 votes in favour to three against, with four abstentions.
As I reported to this House on 28 November, there has been some limited progress. US restrictions on the sale of food and medicines to Cuba were lifted in October as a result of a bipartisan initiative in the US Congress. Regrettably, however, the immediate practical effects of this slight relaxation have been limited, in part because US financial institutions remain constrained from extending credits to facilitate sales of food and medicine to Cuba.
Bearing in mind that the limited measures adopted by the US Senate and House of Representatives last year had both Republican and Democratic support, I hope very much that the new US Administration will consider a full review of the embargo. There are other options available to the United States for persuading the Cuban Government to observe its international obligations in respect of human rights. I am aware of reports that Secretary of State Colin Powell is keen to evaluate the efficacy of existing US sanctions policy in general. Despite negative indications given by Vice-President Cheney last weekend concerning the possible lifting of the embargo on Cuba, it would be timely for any general review by the new Administration to include the case of Cuba. In this context, I hope the US Administration will consider the approach that is being followed by the European Union. The European Union's common position on Cuba is not designed to isolate that country. The EU is anxious for closer relations with Cuba. EU member states carry on normal bilateral relations across the standard spectrum of contacts from trade to culture and have actively developed their economic relations with the island to such an extent that the EU is now Cuba's leading foreign investor, principal trade partner, premier source of tourists and largest provider of development aid and humanitarian assistance. That is far from a policy of isolation.
The European Union would very much wish to move to an even closer relationship with Cuba of the kind obtaining with other Latin American countries and which usually finds expression in the shape of a formal co-operation agreement. However, as the common policy states, the EU must evaluate developments in the policies, both internal and external, pursued by Cuba “according to the same standards that apply to EU relations with other countries, in particular the ratification and observance of international human rights conventions”.
 Regrettably, the Cuban Government continues to fail to observe its international obligations in respect of many fundamental human rights. It was for this reason that on 4 December last, following a meticulous examination of the conditions prevailing in Cuba, the EU General Affairs Council was reluctantly obliged once again to renew the terms of the common position, pending a change in Cuban policy regarding human rights and freedoms which would enable Havana to accept the standards applied by the EU, without any discrimination, to all countries wishing to have the kind of enhanced relationship with the Union usually formalised in a co-operation agreement.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, as the Council decision of 4 December last makes clear, “it is essential that the EU should deploy further efforts to engage the Cuban authorities in a constructive and frank dialogue on a variety of issues of common interest that may actually produce tangible results, particularly in the political, economic and civil rights spheres. Confidence-building measures should thus continue to be implemented in the spirit of the common position, which will be maintained as the basis of EU-Cuban relations.”
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I wish to focus, first, on the US position. Is there anything further we can do to bring home to the Americans how silly, foolish and unfair this embargo is and, indeed, to point out to them that changes made recently are of no benefit because of the lack of credit facilities? Second, will the Minister accept independent views given to me and others who recently went on a delegation to Cuba that the EU common position may be contributing to the isolation of Cuba and that that common position should now be reviewed?
Mr. Cowen: It is important to point out that the EU common position is not one of isolation, it is at variance with the US position. It is a US embargo, not a UN embargo. In a recent review by the GAC of the common position, the eighth evaluation of the common position took place and was reported on in December to the GAC. We reluctantly had to continue with the existing common position, even though we recognise and made clear in that Council decision that it is essential that the EU should apply further efforts to engage the Cuban authorities in a constructive and frank dialogue on a variety of issues of common interest that may actually produce tangible results, particularly in the political, economic and civil rights spheres. Confidence-building measures should thus continue to be implemented in the spirit of the common position which will be maintained as the basis of EU-Cuban relations. We will work to ensure the European Union maintains its efforts to develop  a new basis for a better relationship with Cuba. While the common position, for the reasons outlined, remains in place, there is still within that evaluation confirmation that we will continue to try to achieve tangible results on the basis of a continuing dialogue.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Minister accept the view expressed by the Pope on his visit to Cuba that it should open up to the world and that the world should open up to Cuba? Does he also accept the parliamentary delegation met independent people, including senior representatives of the Church, who indicated that they believe the EU's common position will not contribute to ending Cuba's isolation? In the event that people might believe the parliamentary delegation is in favour of everything that happens in Cuba, I wish to point out that the regime there is communist and it is obvious that people are being denied certain civil and political rights. We indicated our concern about the case of a Czech politician and his associate who were imprisoned at the time of our visit. Is the Minister in a position to indicate whether the case to which I referred was satisfactorily resolved?
Mr. Cowen: No, I am not in a position to do so. I am aware of the case to which the Deputy refers but I do not have in my possession information which indicates whether it was resolved. One would hope it has been resolved because the individuals in question should not have been imprisoned in the first instance.
Mr. Cowen: Regrettably, the Cuban Government continues to fail to observe its international obligations in respect of many fundamental human rights. It was for this reason that, on 4 December, following a meticulous examination of the conditions prevailing in Cuba, the General Affairs Council was reluctantly obliged, once again, to renew the terms of the common position, pending a change in Cuban policy regarding human rights and freedoms which would enable Havana to accept the standards applied by the EU, without any discrimination, to all countries wishing to have the kind of enhanced relationship with the Union that is usually formalised in a co-operation agreement. The Union is anxious to continue with the dialogue and to resolve the issues involved. We would like to draw up a co-operation agreement on the same non-discriminatory basis as those which apply to other countries. Unfortunately, however, there are outstanding issues in respect of which progress must be made.
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