Svoboda's EU efforts over Cuba pay off

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda probably has slim hopes of holding onto his job when the next government is eventually formed, but he will end his time at the Foreign Ministry on a diplomatic high note. At Monday's summit in Luxembourg, Mr Svoboda managed to persuade his EU counterparts to start working together on a mid and long-term strategy towards Cuba.

Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda
The EU once again criticised Cuba for a deterioration of human rights on the island. But it decided against reintroducing diplomatic sanctions against the Castro regime. Sanctions were introduced in June 2003 following a harsh crackdown on pro-democracy activists, but were lifted two years later.

The EU has been struggling ever since to find a way to deal with the Castro regime. On Monday there was progress in two key areas Ministers agreed that EU states should speak with one voice on Cuba, and also provide concrete support to those fighting for democracy on the island. It was Mr Svoboda who was lobbying heavily - backed by several other former Communist states - for the EU to support these two concepts.

Fidel Castro,  photo: CTK
Mr Svoboda wants the EU to provide more funding for civil society groups, as it has done for Belarus. He also said it was crucial the EU prepares not only a short & mid-term strategy, but also a long-term strategy. Mr Svoboda pointed out that Fidel Castro turns eighty this year and "will die one day". The EU must, he said, be prepared for the situation after the resignation or death of Fidel Castro.

The Czechs were unhappy when sanctions were lifted in 2005, but they now accept there is no appetite in the rest of the EU for their reimposition. Mr Svoboda himself told reporters it wasn't realistic. However he did warn against taking too soft an approach to Cuba. The human rights situation, he said, was getting worse and worse. Czech officials have also pointed out that Fidel Castro has new allies in Latin America, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.