Sunday, June 22, 2008

EU Lifts Symbolic Diplomatic Sanctions on Cuba

Sources: Financial Times, BBC, CNN

In 2003, the EU imposed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in response to the imprisonment of 70 dissidents. While Thursday’s decision to lift the sanctions will not formally take effect until Monday, it is extremely symbolic of European support for Raul Castro’s new form of government leadership. In 2005, the EU suspended the sanctions that limited government visits and EU diplomat participation in cultural events held in Cuba. Accordingly, Monday’s lift will be largely symbolic and will produce few changes in economic relations between the EU and Cuba.

Spain and other European Union member states supporting the lift hope to promote change and encourage continued social reform. Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development, reported positive changes in property ownership rights, access to cell phones, salaries and agriculture after a visit to the country in March. Other EU member countries, including Sweden, fall on the side of the dissidents claiming that the lift is cosmetic and not yet warranted. In response to such concerns, the EU stated that it plans to continue to monitor human rights in Cuba.

Both Castro and the EU believe the lift is necessary to facilitate open communication about critical issues including human rights and the environment. Mr. Michel expects this communication to lead to EU aid in Cuban development. The communication could also benefit the EU by distinguishing its foreign policy from that of the United States.

1. Will this symbolic change have any effect on the United States’ forty-five year embargo on Cuba?
2. Was the EU’s decision to lift sanctions appropriate despite the humanitarian concerns voiced by Sweden and the Czech Republic? Should the EU have waited for a more concrete demonstration of social reform in Cuba?

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