Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Cuba

Delivered in Plenary - November 16th 2004

Mr President

Cuba has regrettably failed to make any progress on human rights in the past year, indeed, since I last spoke on the subject. But it has had the recent good fortune of Mr Zapatero's new socialist government coming to power in Spain. Mr Zapatero seems keen to cosy up to Castro, aided and abetted – shamefully – by the British, Italian and French Governments, which have decided to try to change the tough policy of ostracising the Castro regime and regularly inviting Cuban dissidents to EU embassy functions. This was done last year in protest, after Mr Castro imprisoned 75 dissidents and human rights activists and executed three ferry highjackers fleeing the island. Castro has recently expelled visiting European MPs and NGO workers keen to engage with dissidents under the Varela Project.

The role of Prime Minister Blair, as a close friend of President Bush, who is tough on Cuba, is a bit of a mystery, unless it is some shabby deal cut over Gibraltar, which is thankfully off the agenda in Madrid right now.

For a long time the Cuban Government has been able to blame all the country's woes on the American embargo. That is why our resolution supports lifting it. I am not sure that will help, as lifting it might relieve the increasing economic hardship, worsened by Castro's stupidity in recently banning the dollar for trading purposes as a response to tighter travel restrictions by the US on Cuban exiles visiting their families.

Oswaldo Payá, our Sakarov Prize winner, is still denied the right to visit the European Parliament, but he has written a letter to President Borrell, urging the EU to stand firm on its common European position for as long as the authorities continue their violations of fundamental rights, which included a disgraceful lack of adequate medical care for Cuban prisoners.

I applaud the resolve of countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary, which have been used to the tyranny of communism and have stood firm on any relaxation of the current arrangements. No doubt when the ailing tyrant finally passes away many in this House will sing his praises as the historic father of the nation, as they have recently done sycophantically on the death of President Arafat. I, however, will regard the departure of President Castro as a fresh chance to build a prosperous and democratic Cuba