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Putting the fizz back in flat EU-Cuba relations

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Putting the fizz back in flat EU-Cuba relations

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EU-Cuba friendship is back — on a trial basis — after a two-year rift over human rights.

Cuba’s Communist government gave EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel a Coca-Cola welcome — the iconoclast American soft drink was on the meeting table, but a tete-a-tete with Castro was not. Michel’s three-day trip will include meetings with dissident leaders and wives of President Fidel Castro critics still in prison. European diplomats said rapprochement depends on Cuba’s willingness to make concessions on the human rights front. There is little sign of that yet, they said. Michel is the most senior official to visit Havana since the administration locked up 75 dissidents in March 2003. Dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua said: “It’s obvious there is total EU support for democracy developing in Cuba, without a shred of doubt.” Cuba has released only 14 imprisoned dissidents on health grounds and dismisses EU demands it free the others. Foreign Affairs minister Felipe Perez Roque, said a few days ago: “The whole world knows the dissidents live without working, paid to serve the United States as mercenaries.” When the 2003 crackdown led to EU embassy invitations to dissidents, dubbed the “cocktail war”, Havana froze contact. Spain broke the ice eventually, and the EU began reverting to a policy of engagement in January.