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Castro Renews Formal Ties With EU Countries

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005
HAVANA -- Cuba said Monday it was resuming formal ties with all of Europe, ending a deep freeze in relations following a 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the firing-squad executions of three men who tried to hijack a ferry.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told journalists that official contacts had resumed with the Havana-based ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and the Netherlands, as well as with the European Union mission. ``Cuba has re-established official contacts now with all of the EU countries,'' Perez Roque said. Although diplomatic ties with the European countries were never severed, high-level contacts between Cuba and many EU members were limited for more than 1 1/2 years.

Last week, Cuba re-established contacts with eight other European nations: France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal and Sweden. Cuba earlier had resumed formal contact with Spain, Belgium and Hungary.

Relations between Cuba and Europe chilled after Cuba cracked down on the island's opposition in March 2003, rounding up and sentencing 75 dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years.

Cuba accused the activists of working with the U.S. government to undermine Fidel Castro's communist system, something the dissidents and American officials deny.

European nations were also troubled by the firing-squad executions around the same time of three men who tried to hijack a ferry to the United States.

EU members responded by unanimously agreeing to reduce high-level governmental visits and participation in cultural events in Cuba and to invite dissidents to embassy gatherings - a policy that communist officials deeply resented.

But some European nations, led by Spain's new Socialist government, say the EU sanctions have had little effect, and pressed for a new policy encouraging the Caribbean island to open up.

The deep freeze began melting in November as European Union reviewed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba and the Caribbean nation began releasing some of the 75 dissidents from prison.

Including an earlier release of dissidents for health reasons, 14 of the original 75 have now been freed, leaving another 61 still behind bars.

The United States and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since shortly after Castro took over in 1959. In lieu of embassies, interest sections provide consular services and limited official contact.


Source: NewsMax.com
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press