AS AN island nation with a failed socialist economy, Cuba depends for its survival on those beyond its borders. Venezuela has been its principal patron in recent years, but trade with the European Union is also significant. The European Union is Cuba’s second-most important trading partner and biggest external investor; one-third of all tourists to the island each year come from E.U. countries. Outsiders can influence Cuba, at least at the margins, and they should take advantage of that leverage.
On Feb. 10, the foreign ministers of the 28 E.U. member states will meet in Brussels. On their agenda is whether to begin a negotiation toward a new “political and cooperation agreement” with Cuba, which is being pushed by Spain and some others. Before they rush into a new handshake in Havana, this is a good moment for Europe to take a stand for human rights and send a message to Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel that investments and aid are linked to progress toward democracy and an end to repression.
A decade ago, a visionary dissident, Oswaldo Payá, launched the Varela Project in Cuba, an initiative seeking a legal plebiscite on democracy, free speech and release of political prisoners. More than 11,000 people courageously signed his petition at the time — more than 25,000 back it today — and the regime reacted with cruel disdain. In the “Black Spring” wave of arrests and repression in early 2003, some 75 activists were sentenced to long prison terms. Wisely, the E.U. reacted with disgust to the crackdown, and relations with Cuba soured.
The European Parliament in 2002 recognized Mr. Payá’s effort, awarding him the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, given each year “to honor exceptional individuals who combat intolerance, fanaticism and oppression.” The Web site for the prize notes that Mr. Payá was attempting to change Cuba using legal means, from within.
In July 2012, Mr. Payá was killed in a car wreck in eastern Cuba under suspicious circumstances, along with another activist, Harold Cepero. The vehicle in which they were riding was rammed from behind by a car bearing government license plates, according to the driver. There has yet to be an independent and credible investigation of the circumstances of the crash.
Before the E.U. foreign ministers act, they should read the Jan. 17 letter sent from Havana by the Christian Liberation Movement, of which Mr. Payá was a leader. It notes that there has been a wave of arbitrary detentions, beatings and suspicious deaths over the past two years and cautions that, in his recent gradual liberalization measures, Raúl Castro “grants privileges and permissions, but not our right to have rights.”
On Dec. 11, the European Parliament expressed concern about the human rights situation in Cuba and called for “an international and independent committee of inquiry” to investigate the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero. We hope the E.U. foreign ministers are listening to the parliament that honored Mr. Payá with the Sakharov Prize a decade ago.
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