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Castro to Europe: Drop Dead

Editorial from | The Wall Street Journal

May 23, 2005 | In 2003, after the Cuban regime jailed 75 dissidents and executed three "hijackers" who had tried to flee the country, the European Union froze high-level contacts to Cuba and invited dissidents to ambassadorial functions. Only a few months ago, though, Spain's Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero successfully lobbied the EU to drop its rather soft diplomatic sanctions against the island.

Only a month before the EU is to review its approach to Cuba, its appeasement policy has borne bitter fruit. Over the last few days, several European parliamentarians and journalists were detained and expelled from Cuba. Their crimes? They had tried to monitor an unprecedented meeting of Cuban dissidents. Among the expelled were Spanish lawmakers, demonstrating once more how self-defeating appeasement really is.

Some of those expellees had once themselves lived under Communism, which is probably why they have a much clearer understanding of the true nature of the Cuban regime than so many of their fellow Europeans.

Arnold Vaatz, a German Christian Democrat who had been sentenced to forced labor under the East German regime, criticized the "romanticism of Cuba" in Europe. He said that dissidents told him that "the degree of terror and the degree of the regime's arbitrariness has increased month after month."

Jacek Protasiewicz and Boguslaw Sonik, Polish members of the European Parliament who were denied entry to Cuba, criticized the lifting of the sanctions. "Fidel Castro's regime does not liberalize its internal policy toward human rights activists, and nor does it open itself for honest contacts with the EU," they wrote in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The fact that the meeting was allowed to take place at all should not be seen as a sign of progress. Castro himself hinted that the government would have an "energetic" response for assembly members, the AP reported.

The about 200 dissidents who were chanting "Freedom, freedom" and "Down with Fidel Castro" at a meeting Friday therefore live at great risks. It was the first general meeting of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, a U.S.-backed umbrella organization of Cuban dissidents. In a video message played to the meeting, U.S. President George Bush praised the dissidents for their courage. "We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America," he said.

Europe's response, on the other hand, was revealing for its moral ambiguity. With regard to the expulsions, Amadeu Tardio, spokesman for the European Commission, said Friday: "This is not acceptable ... As such incidents occur even the best friends of Cuba would find it difficult to maintain their position." Mr. Tardio, like so many in Europe, seems to confuse the country with the regime. Europe must decide whether it wants to be best friends with Cuba or with Castro. It can't be both.

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