Spain criticizes Cuba for expelling politician but says snags in reform process to be expected

By Daniel Woolls, AP
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Spain: Cuba erred in expelling politician

MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister criticized Cuba on Tuesday for denying entry to a Spanish politician who has promoted ties with opposition figures on the Caribbean island.

But Miguel Angel Moratinos said such snags were to be expected as Madrid and the rest of Europe nudge Havana’s government toward reform.

Moratinos said Spain wants to use its turn as EU president, which began on Jan. 1, to improve relations with Cuba and encourage dialogue to move the country toward improved respect for human rights and democracy.

The politician who was not allowed to enter Cuba, European Parliament member Luis Yanez, is known to be critical of the Cuban government, but this does not justify Havana’s decision, Moratinos said. Cuban authorities held him and his wife at the airport upon arriving in Havana and sent them on the first plane back to Spain on Monday.

“This is not good news. I think the Cubans made a mistake with this expulsion,” Moratinos told reporters.

“But a relationship with Cuba is not a thing of just a day or two. It is a relationship that needs strategic depth and time to advance,” the minister said.

The Cuban ambassador to Madrid was summoned to the Foreign Ministry Tuesday to explain the expulsion.

Cuban ambassador Alejandro Gonzalez Galiano explained that the decision stemmed from “application of Cuban domestic laws,” the foreign ministry said in a three-paragraph statement after the meeting. It did not elaborate.

Spain told him it condemned the expulsion and expressed hope such incidents do not happen again, saying “they do not help the development of relations between the two countries,” the statement said.

Yanez has promoted contacts between European socialists and democratic Cuban dissidents as president of a group called Cuba-Europe in Progress. Spanish news reports said Yanez was denied a visa to enter Cuba in 2008 when he was invited to attend a meeting of the Progressive Arc dissident group.

Yanez served as the Spanish government’s top official for Latin America when Felipe Gonzalez was prime minister in the 1980s and 90s.

Cuba-Europe in Progress’s Web site has posted a column Yanez wrote in the Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2007 decrying “the disappearance of the most minimal freedom of expression and of artistic creation” in Cuba, as well as the jailing of dissidents.

Yanez told a news conference in Seville on Tuesday that he and his wife had traveled to Cuba as private citizens, but that he had in fact planned to meet with pro-democracy figures during his stay.

Moratinos said that during its EU presidency, Spain will urge the bloc to move away from its “common position” on Cuba. That dates from 1996 and makes improved ties contingent on better respect for human rights and democratic reforms.

The policy has not yielded much, and instead the EU should now take a more active approach that might open up a process of dialogue and elicit firm commitments from Cuba, Moratinos said.

The EU imposed diplomatic sanctions, including a ban on political and other consultations, against Cuba in 2003 after the arrests of dozens of dissidents. The sanctions were suspended in 2005, but not lifted, and relations between the EU and Cuba have remained touchy.

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