Wednesday, June 25, 2008

End of EU sanctions on Cuba deals US a setback

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The European Union's decision to lift sanctions against Cuba dealt a setback to US diplomacy after Washington failed to convince eastern European allies to block the move, analysts say. "It was a failure for American diplomacy, which did everything possible through pressure on eastern European countries, like the Czechs or the Poles, to get a different result," said Janette Habel, an analyst with France's Institute of Higher Learning on Latin America. President George W. Bush's administration, which has stiffened sanctions against Cuba, initially expressed disappointment last week when the EU said it would end the sanctions it imposed after a crackdown on dissidents in 2003.

Tom Casey, the US State Department's deputy spokesman, cautioned US allies to "be cognizant of not taking actions that would appear to give additional legitimacy" to the Cuban regime. But a day later the department's chief spokesman, Sean McCormack, softened US criticism, refusing to repeat the White House reaction that it was "disappointed." "This is a tactical difference," McCormack told reporters Friday. "The US and the European Union share common objectives in Cuba: freedom, democracy and universal human rights," he said, noting that the EU would review the human rights situation in Cuba every year.

The EU officially lifted the sanctions on Monday, hoping to encourage democracy in Cuba in the wake of the historic handover of power in February, when Raul Castro took over the presidency for his ailing brother Fidel. The measure was largely symbolic, as the EU sanctions had been suspended since 2005. It was championed by Spain, which normalized relations with Cuba last year. Marifeli Perez-Stable, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank here, said Washington's hardline stance against Cuba was dented because its eastern European allies backed the EU's decision. The US position to keep up its tough stance on Cuba "until the two Castros die is running out of fuel," Perez-Stable said.

"In Europe or Latin America, no one agrees with US policy on Cuba, whether the governments are on the right or on the left," she said. Spain's Secretary of State for the EU Diego Lopez Garrido said the decision to lift the sanctions showed the European bloc's "independence" from Washington. "The White House has made it known to EU countries that it does not like this move at all," Lopez Garrido said, but Brussels "has shown it is capable of ... choosing its own foreign policy path." The United States has imposed an economic embargo on Cuba since 1962. Bush tightened the sanctions four years ago. White House contender John McCain, a Republican like Bush, has vowed to maintain the embargo. Democratic rival Barack Obama has pledged to lift some of the restrictions on Cuban-Americans imposed by Bush in 2004.

Tom Shannon, the top US diplomat for Latin America, said in a Spanish newspaper interview that the goals of the EU move regarding democracy and human rights "are the correct ones, are the right ones." "But we are worried that it tries to go too fast in the relationship with a government that is still stuck in a dictatorship," Shannon told El Pais. Spain's Cuba policy caused some tension between the European country and the United States. But a Spanish official said the latest move to end the sanctions would not create new problems.

"I don't think they are interested, in the end of a term, to open a new front and fight with the EU," the source said, "especially since it was an issue that was unanimously adopted and there was no opposition from the friendly nations."

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