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Europeans Urge Tougher Line on Cuba

By Harold Heckle

At last some voices of reason amongst the EU bureaucrats... A. Boyd. Saturday May 21, 2005 10:01 PM | MADRID, Spain (AP) - Lawmakers from Spain, Italy and Germany urged their governments on Saturday take to a tougher line with Cuba after the communist government expelled a number of Europeans ahead of an opposition rally in Havana.

Spanish officials demanded that Cuba explain why two Spanish politicians were told to leave the country and a third threatened with expulsion before the rare opposition demonstration, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Two former Spanish senators, Isabel San Baldomero and Rosa Lopez Garnica, were expelled, as were lawmakers from Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Arnold Vaatz, a German lawmaker who was expelled from Cuba on Friday, called for the European Union to take a stronger stand against Cuba.

``With its decision to lift (diplomatic) sanctions against Cuba, the European Union has made itself the accomplice of Fidel Castro's government,'' Vaatz was quoted as saying by the Leipziger Volkszeitung daily.

Six Poles - three journalists, a human rights worker and two students - and an Italian journalist also were ordered to leave the country. Spain said a deputy for the regional Catalan Convergence and Unity party also was threatened with expulsion and was at the Havana airport Saturday.

The diverse dissident groups debated pro-democracy projects on Saturday, the second and final day of the meeting.

``We are satisfied that each and every one of us has fulfilled our duty to our nation,'' said Martha Beatriz Roque, a former political prisoner and lead organizer of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society.

About 200 people were on hand - a little more than half of them delegates - when the general assembly opened Friday in the back yard of another lead organizer and veteran dissident, Felix Bonne. With the absence of diplomats and other guests, the crowd was smaller Saturday, closer to about 100.

Many were surprised the government allowed the meeting to take place. Cuban authorities refer to the dissidents as ``mercenaries'' and ``counterrevolutionaries.''

The two former senators from Spain told reporters on their return that they went to Cuba for a vacation, not for the rally.

Spanish Justice Minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar called the expulsions ``a disagreeable and serious incident.''

Cuba's ambassador to Madrid was called in Friday to discuss the matter, but sent his second-in-command instead, a ministry spokesman said.

The Cuban embassy in Madrid declined to comment.

Italy's foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, also summoned the Cuban ambassador.

Vaatz, the German lawmaker who had planned to attend the dissident assembly in Havana, complained that the Europeans had agreed to Cuba's wish that they break off contacts with dissidents, ensuring that their plight went unnoticed.

``That was what I wanted to break through, and it succeeded,'' Vaatz said.

In Rome, a senior official in Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's coalition urged the government to get tougher with Cuba.

``We need to do it in spite of economic interests that might suggest a more conciliatory attitude,'' Gustavo Selva, the head of a parliamentary foreign affairs commission and a member of the National Alliance government party, was quoted as saying by Italy's ANSA news agency. ``There's no negotiating over freedom.''

Mariano Rajoy, leader of Spain's opposition Popular Party, criticized the government's handling of Cuba.

``Where is it written that the Spanish prime minister must make himself popular with a tyrant as he yet again proved yesterday, like Fidel Castro, or with someone who's unbalanced, like the president of Venezuela?'' he said.

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