EU ambassador in hot water over Cuba letter

HAVANA, March 1st. The EU has asked its ambassador to Cuba to explain why he signed an open letter asking the US to stop being “hostile” to Havana.

“In the context of the mentioned letter, we have requested the ambassador to come to Brussels to provide explanations to the HRVP [EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell],” an EU spokesman told EUobserver on Sunday (28 February).

“In the meantime, we have asked him to provide a note detailing the matter,” the spokesman added.

The unusual step does not mean the EU envoy, Alberto Navarro, will necessarily be sacked or even reprimanded.

But 16 MEPs, including the deputy head of the center-right European People’s Party group, Esteban González Pons, and the vice-president for relations with Latin America, Dita Charanzová, have called for him to go.

Navarro’s anti-US letter targeted “a friend and ally of the EU, to which he is not accredited”, the MEPs said.

“We consider that the current ambassador is not worthy of the high functions he holds and … we strongly request you to proceed with his immediate replacement,” they urged Borrell last week.

The EU has long-opposed the decades-old US trade embargo on Cuba.

It has also opposed former US President Donald Trump’s new sanctions on Cuba, which could lead to fines on Spanish tourism or French drinks firms that do business there.

Borrell himself urged US president Joe Biden to drop the policies after video-talks with Cuba’s foreign minister, which he held on the same day (20 January) as Biden’s inauguration.

Borrell also attacked the US on Cuba while he was on a trip to Moscow last month, saying he “strongly rejected” the American sanctions, which “created a lot of difficulties for Cuban people”.

More than 70 MEPs, at the time, also took Borrell to task for attacking Europe’s main ally, before the EU had even had a chance to talk about Biden’s administration.

Borrell’s office said he did nothing wrong because he had merely restated an agreed EU line.

“The state department’s policy on Cuba will continue to support democracy and human rights, through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future,” a US spokesman told EUobserver, in reaction to Borrell’s Moscow remarks.

But Navarro, the EU ambassador in Cuba, went further in his anti-US rhetoric.

The open letter he signed told Biden “to personally take executive action” to lift the restrictions.

It also urged the US president to “stop being a hostile neighbor” and to “stop interfering in [Cuba’s] domestic affairs”.

The US-EU discord comes amid an economic crunch in Cuba caused by the pandemic, with reports of mass-scale queues for basic food and sanitary items.

But it also comes amid the Cuban regime’s same old abuses, European NGOs say.

Cuba had “taken harsh steps to limit basic rights and freedoms, including artistic and academic freedom, increasingly punishing those who hold alternative views,” Lucia Argüellova, from Czech NGO People in Need, recently told EUobserver.

“Cuban authorities continue to use arbitrary detentions, inhuman treatment, threats, large fines, and imprisonment … to silence critical voices,” she said. ( www.euobserver.com )