In a move aimed to encourage political reforms in Cuba, the nations of Europe are lifting diplomatic sanctions, imposed against the island nation for its repressive policies. Put in place in 2003 after Cuba jailed dozens of political dissidents -– some of whom are still in prison -- the sanctions banned high-level visits by the governments of the twenty-seven member states of the European Union to Cuba, and instituted a policy of inviting dissidents to E.U. member state national day celebrations. They did not bar trade as the United States does, and they were suspended in 2005. The EU has simultaneously offered to establish a political dialogue with the Cuban government, for which it has set a series of human rights benchmarks.
In the E.U.’s decision, it underscored a number of goals for Cuba including the unconditional release of political prisoners, access for all Cubans to the Internet and other vital liberties associated with real democracy. The E.U. has declared with this move that concrete progress in human rights will be the test of the regime’s “reform” initiatives, and its sanctions program could be re-imposed if there is no improvement.
We applaud the European Union for establishing basic principles to underpin its dialogue with the Cuban government. These benchmarks send the right message about what is important: the need for Cuba to change the way it treats its citizens. The U.S. and E.U may differ at times, but there is complete agreement across the Atlantic when it comes to the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights for Cuba.
Real reform will occur in Cuba when it frees all political prisoners, opens its economy and allows free and fair elections. The focus on human rights in the E.U.’s decision underscored that commitment.