- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

The European Parliament stepped up its pressure on Cuba yesterday, telling President Fidel Castro to end the harassment and persecution of his political opposition or face international isolation.

Meeting in Strasbourg, France, the 626-member EU assembly voted to condemn Cuba for violating human rights and called on the communist nation to “take all necessary steps to ensure the immediate release” of political prisoners.

On Wednesday, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, whose nation currently holds the EU presidency, said Cuba was recalcitrant. Havana was refusing to back off the crackdown, which in April put some 75 dissidents in jail for up to 25 years. In addition, three men were executed for a failed hijacking.

“The Cuban government has not taken a single positive step to meet the goals that Europe has set and, in fact, the situation of human rights has worsened further,” Mr. Frattini said.

The European Union has given Cuba an estimated $156 million in aid since 1993 and has been a vocal critic of the 40-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Havana. But after the arrests and executions this spring, the Europeans reduced high-level government contacts with Cuba and participation in cultural events. In addition, in a direct rebuke to Cuba, the European Union sent a memo to its members’ embassies in Havana, instructing them to invite Cuban dissidents to embassy functions.

The State Department welcomed the EU condemnation yesterday.

“Our European allies recognize Castro’s brutality and his utter contempt for those encouraging change,” said Roger Noriega, the State Department’s top diplomat for Latin America. “They are joining us in calling for fundamental change.”

Meanwhile, the House yesterday took up an appropriations bill for the Transportation and Treasury departments, with three amendments designed to weaken the embargo on Cuba. Each was crafted by opponents of the embargo to eliminate funds for enforcement of current law, which bans travel and cash shipments to Cuba.

The White House reiterated the president’s threat to veto any legislation that would weaken the embargo.

“The administration believes that it is essential to maintain sanctions and travel restrictions to deny economic resources to the brutal Castro regime,” said a White House position paper circulated on Capitol Hill yesterday. “Lifting the sanctions now or limiting our ability to enforce them would provide a helping hand to a desperate and repressive regime at the expense of the Cuban people. If the final version of the bill contained such a provision, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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