May 11, 2009 / 6:01 PM / 10 years ago

EU says no progress with Cuba on human rights

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and Cuba disagreed over the communist island’s human rights policy on Monday but a senior EU official made clear he opposed any move to resume sanctions lifted last year.

EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel called instead for more dialogue with the Caribbean island and diplomats said the Union was unlikely to revert to sanctions next month when it reviews the decision to lift them.

“Our views did converge on the issues of climate change and U.N. reform; they did not in the area of human rights,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said after EU officials held talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

“We came back to the issue of political prisoners in Cuba and their health, and the answer we got was that in Cuba there are no political prisoners,” he told reporters.

Despite this, Kohout said the talks had been “a real dialogue, not just two monologues.”

The 27 EU member states agreed last June to scrap sanctions on Cuba to try to encourage democratic reforms, but decided to review the decision annually.

“OBSOLETE” CRITICISM

“Cuba is ready to normalize relations, to establish a new start in the relationships between the European Union and Cuba,” Rodriguez said.

He said the common EU position on Cuba, with its emphasis on human rights criticism, was “obsolete.”

“It was imposed by a North American government which is not in power any more, and I view it today as an obstacle to the process of normalization,” he told reporters.

He said all inmates in Cuba had undergone due legal process and were not political prisoners.

“These are legal decisions, and not of a political nature,” he said. “The Cuban penal system fully complies with all standards in this domain.”

Michel, who represents the EU’s executive Commission, underlined the importance of the resumption of dialogue and the coming to power of U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Dialogue has been re-established, the cooperation has resumed, and you also have a change of administration in Washington,” he said.

“These elements should encourage us to reinforce the dialogue, to pursue the dialogue and have a positive position in the (European) Council (of EU leaders).”

Obama says he wants to recast U.S.-Cuban relations after half a century of hostility, but wants to maintain a U.S. trade embargo imposed on the island in 1962 as leverage for change.

But he has eliminated some restrictions and curbs on U.S. telecoms firms wanting to operate in Cuba, while calling on Havana to improve human rights to get more concessions.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Marine Haas, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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