Beating A Dead Horse Between Brussels And Havana / Rosa Maria Paya

The issue of human rights must permeate every point of the agreement between the EU and Cuba

20 December 2015 – Corrected version

El País, Rosa Maria Paya, 18 December 2015 – In more than a year of negotiations with the Cuban government, the European Union still does not exhibit significant advances beyond commenting on the establishment of a structural framework for an accord and trade issues.

The Cuban government played its cards right. It made public part of the conversations it has maintained (for years) with the government of the United States, and the already precipitated rush for “positioning” in Cuba went berserk. Under the assumption, among other naivetés, that the biological end of the brothers-in-chief would spontaneously bring democracy, European and other entrepreneurs tried to assure themselves of a place on the island before “the coming of the Americans,” no matter how much money they lost in the process.

I will not dwell on the obvious nonexistence of a Cuban market, where the people have no purchasing power nor the democratic resources to engage with foreign investors and self-management, because in Cuba the only legal company is the government. It is clear that privileged foreigners, always in a minority role with the government – given that it is the sole owner on the island – are guaranteed lack of competition. But it is at the risk of losing everything the instant they start to be “inconvenient,” whether because they demand to collect what is owed them, or because a more interesting (and submissive) partner appears. There are examples of European entrepreneurs who have even ended up in Cuban prisons, like the Englishman Stephen Purvis.

The reality is, when one deals with mafias there are no win-win solutions. Despite the precarious economic situation the country finds itself in, paradoxically the Cuban government manages to appear as if it has nothing to lose in the negotiations with the EU. However, it would be a failure for European diplomacy to end the process of negotiations and to have to admit that the Cuban government is not willing to compromise on anything and, what’s more, that it will not meet the basic requirements on matters of human rights that the EU requires of its partners. The pressure at this point increases contrary to logic, and this increases the possibilities of ending up signing anything, in a desperate effort to show some results, and thus satisfying only economic interests.

To close a negotiated agreement, the EU requires the inclusion of a human rights clause, which the Cuban government is trying to define in a way that they can manipulate or simulate compliance with its conditions. But if in a stroke of common sense and coherence, Europe realizes that it is the Cuban government that needs Europe, not Europe that needs Cuba, the EU has in its hands a lever to support democracy, and with it true peace, progress and stability in Cuba and in the region. A condition necessary, this time, to establish a framework of guarantees for European economic interests.

For 65 years years now there have been no free and plural elections  held in Cuba, and there is no legal framework to conduct them. The space for economic reforms is also very limited, because the constitution was illegally altered in 2002 to make “irrevocable” and set in stone the economic, political and social system of the island, which is linked to the control of the “highest leading force”: a Communist one-party system and its monopolistic management. The EU cannot ask for a constitutional change, but it can support the right of Cubans to choose their own future, to choose the system they want to live in, and to participate in the economic and political life of the country. The alternative is called apartheid, it is insupportable and it is immoral.

There is a non-partisan citizen’s initiative called Cuba Decides, which promotes the holding of a binding plebiscite that would allow Cuban citizens to vote for the changes necessary to initiate a process of democratic transition. No matter how many cosmetic reforms are made by the powers that be, this process will not have begun as long as Cubans cannot participate fully in it. The issue of human rights must permeate every point of the agreement between the EU and Cuba and cannot be treated as an issue independent of the others. The conditions that the EU establishes now should be measureable and verifiable in the short and medium term. We therefore hope that the realization of a binding plebiscite on the island is supported, with concrete conditions that guarantee an international presence and a clean process. Like what happened in Chile in 1988, with the support of a good part of the world.

Neither the EU nor the Obama administration is charged with resolving the Cuban problem. But they do have a historic responsibility to execute specific steps of effective solidarity with a real transition to democracy. Supporting the participation and citizen sovereignty of the Cuban people – instead of the exclusive management of a corporate-military caste that has been in power 56 years without ever having been freely chosen by the people – is, in any case, the decent choice.
Who could be against the Cuban people’s right to choose?

From El País, Americas Edition: Rosa María Payá is a promoter of “Cuba Decides” and the daughter of the late dissident leader Oswaldo Paya. Twitter @RosaMariaPaya