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EU to Take Closer Look at Human Rights in Cuba

The European Union says it will take a closer look at human rights issues in Cuba after an incident last week in which EU lawmakers were expelled from the island where they had traveled to take part in a meeting with opposition figures.

Arnold Vaatz speaks to journalists at Madrids Barajas airport after being expelled from Cuba along with Czech Senator Karel Schwarzenberg
The matter came up at talks with the Rio Group of Latin American countries in Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency. One Czech and a German lawmaker were expelled ahead of a Cuban opposition meeting earlier this month, and there were other such incidents with European politicians and journalists. Those involved had traveled on tourist visas to attend the opposition meeting.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn says the matter will be examined at a meeting of EU foreign ministers next month. "What has happened recently is not good. Its not productive," he said. "It's not helpful if MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) are not given visas, if deputy ministers are denied access. We need to look at things calmly. I think I told you that three days ago I had a very interesting and frank discussion with the Cuban ambassador in Brussels. I outlined to him the position of the European Union and I explained that that sort of action is hardly likely to promote dialogue. I think the message was understood. I hope the message was understood. And at our next general affairs council in June we shall be looking at Cuba."

Mr. Asselborn said he hopes provocation can be avoided in the future on both sides. He also said if Cuban authorities have not understood the situation, it is difficult for the EU to go any further. He said he would do everything possible to reopen a dialogue on human rights with Cuba.

Other EU officials have previously condemned the incident, along with the German and Czech governments.

In January the EU suspended sanctions on Havana which had been imposed in 2003 after a crackdown on dissidents. Tensions between Cuba and Brussels had eased earlier this year after Cuba released some dissidents. Cuba in January also announced it was restoring diplomatic ties with EU states represented in Havana.