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Written Answers. - US Economic Embargo Against Cuba.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 41. Mr. Stagg Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if progress has been made on the resolution of the perceived inconsistency he acknowledged between Ireland's vote at the United Nations on Cuba and the common resolution adopted by member countries of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10263/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen While the Deputy is correct in recalling that I have previously acknowledged that there is a perception in some quarters of inconsistency between, on the one hand, Irish and EU opposition to the US economic embargo against Cuba, and on the other hand, the EU Common Position on Cuba, I have also pointed out on several occasions that in reality there is no inconsistency between the two positions.

In replying to questions in this House on 7 February last, I reiterated the Government's clear position regarding the US economic embargo against Cuba. Ireland is opposed to the embargo and we wish to see it brought to an end. Together with our partners in the EU, we have regularly supported the resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for its lifting, most recently on 27 November last when the resolution was carried by 167 votes in favour to three against, with three abstentions. It is to be hoped that attention will be paid to the overwhelming majority voice of the General Assembly.

Unlike the US, the EU operates no sanctions against Cuba. On the contrary, EU member states carry on normal relations with Havana across the full spectrum of contacts from trade to culture. In fact, the 15 member states have [780] actively developed their economic relationship 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.

What the EU cannot do is advance beyond normal relations to the kind of special relationship represented by the structured co-operation agreements which have been negotiated with other countries in the region. These co-operation agreements are partnerships based on the shared values of respect for democracy and human rights.

Regrettably, the authorities in Havana do not share our view of these values at this time. Reports by agencies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly documented the absence of respect for a number of fundamental human rights.

As the House is aware, the EU General Affairs Council conducts a close and careful evaluation of conditions obtaining in Cuba at regular six-monthly intervals. Following the latest assessment, the Council found, on 10 December last, that the situation in Cuba remains “seriously wanting as regards the recognition and application of civil and political freedoms and the refusal of the Cuban authorities to contemplate reforms leading to a political system based on those values”. The Council, therefore, was on this occasion reluctantly obliged once again to renew 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 to all countries, without any discrimination, wishing to have the kind of enhanced relationship with the Union inherent in an institutionalised co-operation agreement.

Nevertheless, the Council is encouraged by the recent renewal of political dialogue by Havana in December 2001, when the EU troika led by Belgian Foreign Minister Michel, visited Cuba. This renewed dialogue offers some hope that progress can be made in the coming period. The EU side has made it clear that it expects to see meaningful indications from the Cuban Government that it will move to respect international norms in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms including, for example, the principles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

If Havana were to sign these two covenants and to respect their provisions, the way might begin to open up towards changes in the Common Position which could lead to the negotiation of a fully-fledged, mutually beneficial co-operation agreement.

Unlike the US, therefore, the EU and its member states not only maintain quite normal and indeed vibrant relations with Cuba in such areas as trade, tourism, culture and humanitarian assistance, but we are also anxious to encourage the [781] kind of progress in the fields of human rights and democratisation which would enable us to develop an even closer relationship of the kind obtaining with other countries in the region.

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