14ymedio, José Ramón Bauzá, Brussels , 6 April 2020 — The release of Cuban opposition figure José Daniel Ferrer last Friday was a rare piece of good news, among a stream of bleak reports. Together with three other activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba, Mr. Ferrer had been illegally detained since last October by Cuban authorities, despite calls for his release.
But this humanitarian gesture should not divert our attention from the true nature of Cuba’s regime, lest we invite the next crackdown on independent civil society. For if Ferrer’s case illustrates one truth is this: whenever the communist regime wants something from the international community, it takes the Cuban people hostage.
After six decades of communist rule and international isolation, Cuba is falling apart. Sadly, this is more than a metaphor. Last January, three young girls died on their way back from school when a derelict building collapsed on them in the touristic heart of Havana.
The political order too was crumbling in Cuba until the EU threw a lifeline to the regime. With the revolutionary fervour fading from the memory of new generations, the regime was in dire need of legitimation and international support. This help came in the form of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement – PDCA – signed in 2016 between the EU and Cuba.
Since the “common position” adopted in 1996, Brussels made relations with Cuba conditional on regime change. This approach was abandoned in favour of political engagement, hoping that a deepening of ties would persuade the regime to improve its human rights record. The arrest last October of José Daniel Ferrer, on politically motivated charges, showed how misguided this approach was. Emboldened by the legitimisation provided by the EU, and the block’s reluctance to suspend the PDCA even in the face of blatant violations, Cuban authorities have ramped up the repression of independent civil society.
The EU’s response to these breaches of the human rights provisions contained in the PDCA has been bland. For the Spanish and Latin American public, this comes as no surprise, especially since the appointment of Josep Borrell as High Representative. Prior to his role as Europe’s top diplomat, Mr. Borrell served as Foreign Affairs Minister for Spanish socialist PM Pedro Sánchez, whose flirtations with the leftist regimes in Venezuela and Bolivia have been widely criticised. Sanchez’s group in the European Parliament even voted against the November resolution that called for the release of José Daniel Ferrer, and a recent delegation to Cuba led by S&D’s head Iratxe García was criticised for visiting the island while many MEPs continue to be denied entry.
With the release of Mr. Ferrer, many in Brussels and Madrid will try to present this gesture as a sign of changing attitudes in Cuba, wanting to resume business as usual. This would be a serious mistake which will only further the misery of the Cuban people.
Whenever Diaz-Canel wants to divert attention from his regime’s shortcomings, the authorities resort to the imprisonment of opposition figures, just to release them later in a show of goodwill from Havana, and of ‘successful diplomacy’ from Europe. In the meantime, any discussion about the lack of real progress in the island is buried under this vicious cycle of illegal imprisonment, international condemnation and ‘welcomed steps’.
If we are truly committed to promoting the rule of law and human rights in Cuba now is the time to demand further changes in the island, starting with the release of all political prisoners, and the inclusion of independent civil society in the EU-Cuba human rights dialogue. Otherwise, the way to Cuban’s hell will continue to be paved with the EU’s good intentions.
José Ramón Bauzá is Ciudadano´s Member of the European Parliament. He is on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.