Latin America & Caribbean

Freed dissidents urge EU not to soften its Cuba policy

From left to right: Cuban dissidents Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, Julio Cesar Galvez Rodriguez (C) and Normando Hernandez Gonzalez give a news conference on 19 July
Image caption The dissidents want pressure to remain on the Cuban authorities

Eleven freed Cuban dissidents have urged the European Union not to soften its long-standing demands for democratic change in Cuba.

The group, who arrived last week in Spain, said their release was not a gesture of good faith but "a desperate action" by the Cuban government.

Cuba has agreed to free 52 political prisoners under a deal agreed with the Catholic Church and Spain.

A further nine freed dissidents are expected to arrive in Spain this week.

The EU should not change its Common Position on Cuba, the dissidents said on Monday.

This refers to the policy from 1996 that calls for advances in human rights and democracy, before relations with Cuba can be normalised.

There had been no clear decision by the Cuban government to move towards democratisation, a statement from the group said.

"For this reason we ask European Union member states to not soften their demands for democratic changes in Cuba, so that all Cubans can enjoy the same rights that European citizens have," they said.

Hunger strike

The dissidents' position is at odds with remarks made by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who took part in talks with the Cuban government.

Speaking after the planned releases were announced on 7 July, Mr Moratinos said the EU should soften its stance on Cuba.

Mr Moratinos said the largest release of Cuban dissidents since 1998 "opened a new era" in European ties with Cuba.

Spain has in the past called for an end to the Common Position, but other EU member states have been unwilling to change the policy.

The Cuban government has been under pressure to free dissidents since one prisoner on hunger strike, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in February.

In another development, the French news agency AFP reports that the US diplomatic mission in Havana has called a meeting later on Tuesday with relatives of dissidents who are refusing to leave Cuba.

"All we know is that they (the US mission) have invited a representative of each prisoner who has not been contacted by the Church or who has refused to travel to Spain," the head of the Ladies in White opposition movement, Laura Pollan, told AFP.

Church officials have said that leaving Cuba was not a condition for the prisoners' release.

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