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Fidel blasts ‘hypocrisy’ of EU vote on Cuba sanctions

Andrea Rodriguez

HAVANA — Fidel Castro last Friday slammed a European Union (EU) decision lifting diplomatic sanctions against Cuba but imposing tough human rights conditions, calling it an “enormous hypocrisy” in light of Europe’s new rules on illegal immigration.

The ailing 81-year-old former leader, who handed power over to his younger brother Raúl in February, said in an online essay that the EU has no right to lecture Cuba on human rights given what he called the union’s “brutal” immigration policy.

“At my age and in my state of health, you don’t know how long you’re going to live,” he wrote on the CubaDebate Web site (www.cubadebate.cu). “But from now on I wish to register my scorn for the enormous hypocrisy behind this decision.”

Castro also said neither the sanctions nor their end would have “absolutely any economic consequence” for Cuba, which is also the target of a decades-old U.S. economic embargo.

The immigration measures adopted by the EU last week seek to standardize the process by which illegal immigrants are held and deported in member nations. It contains some contentious provisions, such as allowing for migrants to be held for as long as 18 months before being expelled.

Raúl Castro’s government has yet to comment on the lifting of the sanctions. But a number of Cuban dissidents expressed disappointment.

Opposition writer and economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe said he worries about Europe lifting pressure on Raúl Castro’s government before it improves human rights policies.

The EU decision “could send a bad message to the Cuban government, which hasn’t released the prisoners,” said Chepe, who was among 75 government opponents arrested and sentenced in a 2003 crackdown that prompted the EU sanctions.

He was one of 20 in that group who were later released for medical reasons.

Chepe’s wife, Miriam Leiva, said EU members seeking an open dialogue with Cuba will be disappointed to find “only a monologue.”

But at least one government opponent welcomed the move.

Dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who calls himself a social democrat, said the EU move could promote open dialogue with Europe and encourage Cuba to undertake some reforms.

“Confrontation doesn’t work,” he said.

Last Thursday’s EU decision was largely symbolic since the sanctions, which banned high-level Cuban officials from visiting EU nations and promoted inviting dissidents to embassy cocktail parties in Havana, were suspended two years after they were imposed. The EU decided the tactic was not helping dialogue with the island’s government, and many European nations dropped dissidents from their embassy party lists to encourage higher-level Cubans to attend the soirees.

But the EU said it might take new measures if Cuba fails to release all political prisoners, give all Cubans access to the Internet and allow EU delegations in Cuba to meet opposition figures as well as government officials.

Officials said the EU will evaluate Cuba’s progress in a year.

The U.S. government said it supports the EU’s conditions for measuring Havana’s progress on rights issues over the next 12 months.

“These benchmarks send the right message about what is important: the need for the Cuban government to change the way it treats its citizens,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. “If the Cuban government intends to undertake meaningful change, it will take concrete steps to improve its human rights record.”

(Associated Press)