EU foreign ministers agreed to definitively lift sanctions against Cuba. Intended to encourage democracy in the nation, the gesture is largely symbolic, since sanctions against the nation were suspended in 2005.(Report: K.Williams/M.MacCarthy)
EU nations agreed Thursday to definitively lift their sanctions against Cuba, in the hope of encouraging democracy on the island, European diplomats said.
European Union foreign ministers took the decision in principle during dinner on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.
"There was an agreement to lift the sanctions against Cuba," a European diplomatic source said.
"They have agreed to have an annual review and in one year's time to assess the political dialogue with Cuba," she added.
The move is a largely symbolic gesture as the sanctions have been suspended since 2005.
Sources with the Spanish delegation confirmed the move. Spain restored diplomatic relations with Havana last year and championed the move to get the sanctions lifted.
However Washington said it opposed the move in favour of Cuba, which it said remains an authoritarian regime, despite recent reforms.
"While we've seen some very minor cosmetic changes made by this regime, we certainly don't see any kind of fundamental break" with communism as practiced by recently departed Cuban president Fidel Castro, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Many European officials have called for the lifting of the sanctions, which restrict high-level diplomatic contacts and offer some symbolic support for dissidents.
"We see encouraging signs in Cuba and I think that we should show the population in Cuba that we are ready to work with them," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
"We should not be insensitive to what is going on," she added, in reference to the first steps of Raul Castro since taking the reins from his ailing brother Fidel.
"The lifting of sanctions would give us a more effective way to deal with the human rights question," through better engagement, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
The measures were imposed in 2003 after Cuba jailed 75 dissidents and executed three young Cubans who had attempted to escape to the United States.
However they have had little effect as the authorities in Havana have only released 20 of the 75, mostly for medical reasons.
A Cuban dissident group asked the EU on Monday to press Havana for "real" reforms ahead of a review of its Cuba sanctions, dismissing changes introduced so far by President Raul Castro as cosmetic.
A small minority of EU member states, led by the Czech Republic, along with the Netherlands and Denmark, had been reluctant in the past to definitively lift the sanctions, insisting that the EU should continue to press on the prisoners and wider human rights issues.
Date created : 2008-06-20