Not in my name, Madame Mogherini
By throwing a last-minute lifeline to the Castro regime before the old guard gives way, the EU has debased its defining principles, turned its back on the Cuban people and slimmed the odds of change.
A highlight of her two-day round of visits and high-level meetings in Cuba, Mogherini’s keynote address at Havana University last Wednesday set the tone for the EU’s renewed ties with Cuba?—?progressively thawed over the last decade?—?as premised on “building bridges, not walls and opening doors, not shutting them, through cooperation and dialogue”. Similar soundbites of Castro-like veiled anti-American rhetoric crowded the speech throughout.
To be clear, Mogherini’s express trip to Havana has signified the successful culmination of a momentous turn in EU-Cuba relations more than a decade in the making, that’s being celebrated in Brussels as a meaningful re-assertion of European influence in the Trump era of bridge-building and renewed national competition. However, when examined against the EU’s own defining principles and the purported motives of its Cuba rapprochement, the visit should have raised far more questions in media and public opinion.
First, Mogherini’s schedule was altogether shut off to even the most moderate elements of Cuba’s opposition and focused exclusively on the highest echelons of the regime’s apparatus. Her packed diary included meetings with ministers of foreign affairs, trade and investment, culture, the head of Cuba’s sham parliament and even a final unscheduled bilat with Raúl himself. Aside from a drop-in at a youth centre?—?where the voices of party stalwarts likely drowned out dissent?—?no attempt was made whatsoever to branch out beyond party and regime circles.
On the premise of dynamizing government talks as a catalyzer for enhanced dialogue and cooperation at all other levels, the EU has de facto repudiated the people of Cuba by giving them no say in its vision for revised relations. For all the flaws in his own breakthrough with Cuba, Barack Obama boldly turned an off-schedule sit-down with a sample of opposition voices into a major highlight of his own trip in 2016. Unfortunately, Mogherini does not deserve that same credit for bravery.
But Mogherini’s approach is flawed on several other levels. Most importantly, the EU’s Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) with Cuba makes scarce attempts at nudging the regime even on its most infuriating abuses. While the human rights situation on the island has far from improved in the last decade unlike what optimists predicted, it remains as always only a vague allusion resulting in no real demands of the regime.
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