Carlos Malamud: 'Europe’s policy is ‘wait and see'

Article published on Feb. 12, 2007
Article published on Feb. 12, 2007
In Cuba, the Castro administration is on the verge of ‘going to a better place’

While the US has made clear its position in favour of a quid-pro-quo transition to the person seemingly in line to assume command, the dictator’s brother Raul Castro, there is a deathly silence on the issue from the EU. Carlos Malamud, an Argentinean living in Spain and a specialist in European-Latin American relations, is currently chief Latin America researcher at the Real Instituto Elcano research centre in Madrid.

Which countries have the most influence over the EU’s stance regarding Cuba?

Because of its close historical links with Cuba, and Latin America in general, it’s obvious that Spain has one of the prime positions in terms of dialogue with the Cuban administration. In fact, when Europe’s policy towards Cuba changed a few years ago, it came from a Spanish initiative. Since then, France, Germany and the UK have had a more prominent role to play in the EU-Latin America relationship: they are now the main decision-makers in the governing of the Council of Europe.

We shouldn’t forget, either, that Cuba is a communist country: only two and a half years ago, former Soviet-bloc countries - and therefore ones with close ties to the Castro regime - became part of the EU. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland are all keen to accelerate the democratisation of Cuba, with the primary emphasis being on basic human rights and liberties.

Can you say if the EU is taking preparatory measures in the case of 'new revolution' in Cuba?

The way I see it, it’s a succession rather than a transition. Leaving aside the discussion of whether Fidel Castro has cancer or diverticulitis, what is clear is that within Cuba, Raúl is being promoted, although never mentioned as Head of State. Given the lack of verifiable information coming out of Cuba, and Fidel’s reluctance to leave office, it’s difficult for the EU to move forward. Even so, the EU is following the issue very closely: the change of policy in the EU a few years ago has made it easier to be prepared for any eventuality - it’s still a policy of ‘wait and see’.

Do you consider Raúl Castro to be a reformist, or is he rather a seamless continuation of his brother’s approach?

Raúl is much more pragmatic, less aggressive and extreme than his brother. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

Cuba, chronology of a peculiar status quo

The EU is the main commercial partner and the largest source of foreign investment, provides the highest number of tourists and chief collaborator in the development of Cuba.

September 1988: Cuba becomes the first non-European member of the now defunct Comecon (socialist commercial bloc created in 1949), to establish diplomatic relations with Brussels

Early 1993: The cooperation between the European Commission and Cuba begins with the ECHO (European Commission Humanitarian Office) for the prevention of humanitarian crises caused by natural disasters; in the absence of a cooperation agreement with the EU, the entire programme is financed through the Commission’s general budget

February 1996: During negotiations begun in October 1995, the Cuban Air Force brings down two civilian aircraft belonging to the Miami-based NGO Brothers to the Rescue. In protest, Brussels suspend talks relating to the cooperation agreement and demand changes in Cubans politics

December 1996: Brussels’ official position regarding Cuba is defined when the Council approves an EU document called 'Common Position', in which requests are made to set in process a transition towards a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. Castro rejects the document which he considers interference in the domestic affaire of the Cuban government

December 2000: Cuba becomes the 79th member of the ACP countries group (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific). Cuba does not benefit from the Cotonou Agreement (2000) between the ACP and the EU, but receives a quota from the Union for sugar production (59,000 tonnes/year; 98 Euros per tonne)

March 2003: The European Commission opens its Delegation in Havana in order to strengthen relations between the EU and Cuba in politics, politics, economics, society and culture

April 2003: The EU registers a diplomatic protest against the imprisonment in Cuba of 75 peaceful political opponents and the execution of three men who were trying to escape to Florida in a hijacked boat

May/June 2003: EU sanctions limit high-level bilateral visits, reduce the profile of the authorities of the member states for cultural events, invites Cuban dissidents to national celebrations, and begins a process of re-evaluation of the Common Position. Cuba refuses all direct EU bilateral aid and launches an attack against Spain, under the then-prime minister Aznar, and Italy

February/ March 2005: The European Council temporarily suspends diplomatic sanctions against Cuba as a result of the first dissidents released by the government in Cuba. The EU changes its position at the same time as José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero comes to power as prime minister in Spain (March 2004)

By Ariadna Matamoros

(Photo: Brainless/ Flickr)