“EU policy towards Cuba is defined by the common position on Cuba, to the shaping of which Ireland contributed. The common position aims to encourage through dialogue and not by external pressure a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, a lasting economic recovery and an improvement in living standards of the Cuban people . . .”
This is the most often repeated mantra in the content of answers to questions related to Cuba tabled in Dáil Éireann. Having analysed the questions and answers available on the Oireachtas web site (since 1998), we come to one inescapable conclusion: Irish governments have been and still are hostile to Cuba, and use every opportunity presented to them to express that hostility. Furthermore, Irish governments are sympathetic–perhaps even servile–to the United States, and similarly use every opportunity presented to them to express that sympathy, or servility.
Almost any question related to Cuba prompts a repeat of the mantra quoted above. The only significant exception detected is in relation to trade or trade-related issues, where the questions are answered directly and to the point. A question on the case of Elián González also received a direct response. Single questions that would not naturally give an opportunity for repeating the mantra are bundled together, and magically the mantra appears.
However, the mantra itself is only a part of the problem. The “common position” was established in 1996 at the instigation of José María Aznar, the right-wing prime minister of Spain, following intense pressure from the United States and specifically from the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), the extremist anti-Cuba organisation in Miami. The “common position” largely mirrors US policy, and where it doesn’t, it complements the US antagonism towards Cuba. It is this influence that oozes out of the pores of successive Irish Ministers for Foreign Affairs and their departmental officials (or perhaps that should be the other way around).
Questions on the various topics below–and on many other issues–have been asked by deputies on all sides of the house. Most of the questions appear to be genuine attempts to secure information on government policy or attitudes to the various issues. A small number of questions are genuine attempts by the deputies concerned to remind everybody just how hostile to Cuba they really are, and to give the minister of the day another opportunity to repeat the mantra. However, our spotlight is on the answers to the questions.
It should be noted that most of the stated criticisms of Cuba are not confined to the answers referred to in this study: they are repeated in numerous answers, as an examination of the record shows.
It is not our intention in this study to respond to or expand on the issues raised either in the questions or in the answers, only to examine the content, context and intention of the various replies from the various ministers.
The Miami Five
“The five Cuban men . . . were convicted in the United States on charges ranging from espionage to conspiracy in first degree murder, following an investigation into the deaths of two young Cuban-Americans when the plane they were piloting was shot down on its way to drop leaflets over Havana in support of a human rights demonstration in the city. I understand the convictions are to be the subject of an appeal. It is essential that this appeal be conducted in a manner which is fair and impartial and free from political considerations. It would be inappropriate, therefore, for me to comment on the trial.”
Brian Cowen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 13 November 2002
“As the deputy has been informed in previous answers to questions on this issue, the Irish Government has no standing in this matter, which is a bilateral consular question between the Cuban and US authorities.”
Dermot Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 7 December 2004 (a position repeated on 4 October 2005)
Cowen repeats the nonsense that the flights over Havana were to support a demonstration and completely ignores the fact that the flights by “Brothers to the Rescue” were repeated violations of Cuban air space. He then reasons that he should not comment on the trial.
Dermot Ahern in 2004 and again in 2005 finds another reason to avoid comment. The problem here is that successive Irish governments have never been shy about commenting on trials in Cuba or supporting, unreservedly, the defendants in those trials. (See “Trials in Cuba” below.)
Why do Irish governments apply completely opposite and contradictory standards in their dealings with Cuba and the United States?
“I have previously expressed to the house the Government’s concern that the detainees in Guantánamo Bay be treated in accordance with the provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law. I understand that a number of EU partners whose nationals are being held in Guantánamo Bay are seeking to resolve this issue with the US authorities. The Government hopes that a speedy solution, ensuring that all detainees are treated in accordance with international law, can be reached.”
Brian Cowen, 5 March 2003
“As the deputy will be aware, I have, on a number of occasions, made known the Government’s concerns regarding the treatment and status of the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, both in this house and elsewhere. These concerns are shared by our partners in the EU. The United States is well aware of the Government’s view that those detained at Guantánamo Bay should be treated in accordance with the provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law. These concerns have been conveyed most recently to the US embassy in Dublin by my Department last week. In expressing these views, I do so as a friend of the United States.”
Brian Cowen, 30 September 2003
In contrast to the position towards the Cuban diplomatic mission, the minister did not “summon” the US ambassador to his office for a ticking-off. On the other hand, in response to events in Cuba “the Cuban chargé d’affaires was summoned to my Department, where these concerns were conveyed directly to her”. (Brian Cowen, 19 May 2004)
Furthermore, there were diplomatic sanctions.
“Also consistent with the basic policy set out in the EU common position and, indeed, in implementation of that policy, the EU was obliged in June 2003 to take a number of diplomatic steps . . . to limit bilateral high-level governmental visits; to reduce participation in cultural events; to invite Cuban dissidents to national day events at EU embassies in Havana and to proceed to an early re-evaluation of the EU common position, which had not been due to take place until December 2003.”
Brian Cowen, 7 October 2003
The minister is a “friend of the United States.” Fair enough. That should not necessarily make him hostile to Cuba, although his actions would bring the matter into question. However, whatever the truth of this, it is clear that the approach to Cuba is radically different from the approach to the United States. What is the reason for this? Why does the Irish government adopt such a hostile approach to Cuba and such an accommodating, or servile, approach to the United States?
“The draft resolution on the detainees in Guantánamo Bay to which the deputy refers was tabled at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by the delegation from Cuba on 14 April 2005. The draft resolution was defeated in a vote taken on 21 April 2005, with all EU partners who are members of the commission, including Ireland, voting against, following full and detailed consideration of the issue.”
Various reasons were put forward in the answer, but essentially it was all Cuba’s fault, and after all, the United States is doing its best.
“As regards a request in the draft resolution for the United States to co-operate with the special procedures of the commission, which in effect are special rapporteurs and independent experts on the issues in question, the EU statement recalled the fundamental importance it attaches to full co-operation by all states with these mechanisms. It noted with satisfaction that the United States has already started discussions on the modalities for a visit by special procedures to Guantánamo Bay and indicated that the EU would welcome an early visit. The EU statement also noted that some countries, including Cuba, refuse to allow such visits to their own territories and prisons and called on these countries to change their attitude. In this regard, the EU statement observed that introducing a resolution calling on the United States to act in manner which Cuba refused to do, risks damage to the work and credibility of the commission.
“I understand that the United States has facilitated regular visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Guantánamo Bay. In this regard, the ICRC does not have access to prisons maintained by the Cuban Government. I would welcome an early decision by the United States Government to facilitate a visit by special procedures of the CHR to Guantánamo Bay.”
Dermot Ahern, 4 May 2005
he government has been hoping for a “speedy solution . . . in accordance with international law” since March 2003. As we are all aware, there has been no solution. Neither have there been any resolutions proposed or jointly sponsored by Ireland at the Human Rights Commission, despite the fact that up to a thousand (the precise figures are unknown) so-called “unlawful combatants””including minors”have been kidnapped, subjected to “extraordinary rendition,” detained without charge, subjected to indefinite detention, held incommunicado, forcibly fed, etc. In fact the Irish government and the European Union have shielded the United States from any such resolution.
Blockade activities in Ireland
Asked “if the Government complied with the UN Secretary-General’s most recent request to provide information necessary for a report on the implementation of [General Assembly] resolution 58/7 on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba,” the minister replied:
“Each year, in accordance with the terms of the resolution, it is customary for the UN Secretary-General to prepare a report on the implementation of the resolution. In line with this, on 19 April 2004 the UN Secretary-General, Mr Annan, invited all UN member-states to provide any relevant information’ by 16 June 2004. Since the Government has never promulgated or applied laws or measures such as the Helms-Burton Act, it has not been customary to make a submission to the UN Secretary-General on this matter.”
Dermot Ahern, 30 September 2004
While Irish governments have “never promulgated or applied laws or measures such as the Helms-Burton Act,” the fact remains that Irish governments have never taken any measures to prevent US blockade activities from being activated in Ireland. Neither have any Irish governments reported such activities to the Secretary-General. Governments have been aware that American enterprises in Ireland have applied US blockade legislation to their activities. Numerous enterprises issue invoices on which the following statement is printed: “United States law prohibits disposition of these commodities to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and N. Korea unless otherwise authorised by the U.S. Government.” At other times, Serbia and Montenegro have been added to the list, along with warnings not to redirect commodities to “end users involved in nuclear, chemical or biological activities or missile technology unless specifically authorised by the U.S Govt.”
Hitachi Printing Solutions Europe (previously trading as Dataproducts Dublin) refused to supply the Cuban Embassy in Dublin with a printer cartridge, on the grounds that the enterprise was a “subsidiary of a US company.” The Ford Motor Company, which now owns Volvo, will not allow its cars to be supplied to Cuban embassies under normal terms of sale. The Irish government is well aware of these activities but has done nothing to bring them to an end. Yet in the Dáil the minister blatantly declares that Ireland is not involved in blockade activities and has nothing to report regarding the Secretary-General’s specific requests for information on such activities.
“On 5 January, the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service determined that Juan González, the father of Elián González, has the sole legal authority to speak for his son on immigration issues and that Elián should be reunited with his father . . . I warmly welcome the decision of the US authorities that this little boy should be reunited with his father.”
David Andrews, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 26 January 2000
Elections in Cuba
“The National and Provincial Assembly elections which took place in Cuba on 19 January last did not correspond to Irish or European definitions of free and fair elections in a pluralist democracy. Under Cuba’s one-party system, 609 candidates were nominated for 609 National Assembly seats, and 1,119 candidates were put forward for 1,119 seats in the provincial assemblies.”
Brian Cowen, 23 March 2003
This answer displays a breathtaking ignorance of the system of elections in Cuba”irrespective of whether the minister agrees with the electoral system or not. Alternatively, the minister deliberately misled the Dáil in his answer.
Trials in Cuba
“I have learnt of the mass arrests in Cuba, over recent days, of more than fifty critics of the Havana Government, some of them close associates of Mr Oswaldo Paya, apparently because they had simply exercised freedom of expression.”
Brian Cowen, 25 March 2003
“Following the summary trial and lengthy prison sentences imposed by the Cuban authorities in March and April of last year on seventy-five dissidents for exercising their right to freedom of speech . . .”
Brian Cowen, 19 May 2004
While the minister allows for other possibilities in his first answer, he allows no such possibility after the conviction of the defendants on charges entirely unrelated to “freedom of expression.” The defendants were convicted of various crimes related to working to undermine the Cuban revolution and collaboration with various US agencies. The minister entirely rules out any possibility that any of the defendants broke any Cuban laws under which they could be properly convicted, or found innocent. The minister’s position is, on the other hand, exactly in line with that of the US government.
“A recent report by the NGO Reporters without Borders ranked Cuba in second-last place worldwide for press freedom.”
Dermot Ahern, 20 November 2004
The minister is relying on a report published by Reporters sans Frontières, a French organisation that has been feverishly attacking Cuba in recent years. This organisation, which is partly funded by US interests directly involved with the promotion and implementation of the US blockade against Cuba, has been linked directly to Publicis, the global advertising giant in which Saatchi and Saatchi is a major partner. Among its most important clients, Publicis has contracts with the US Army and Bacardí. Bacardí lawyers were the chief architects of the Helms-Burton Act. The general secretary of Reporters sans Frontières, Robert Ménard (who devoted himself in the 1960s to infiltrating left-wing organisations), has acknowledged on several occasions that the huge commercial propaganda firm Saatchi and Saatchi is behind his attacks on Cuba, and confirmed that it provides its services free of charge to him. The concealed links between Bacardí, the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) in Miami, and Bush, and the links with the former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and the European extreme right, have also contributed to the present difficulties between with the European Union and Cuba; the “common position” and the various “understandings” that have been dictated by the United States and adhered to religiously by Ireland and the European Union are just some examples of the fruit of their collective labours. The minister’s reply to the question on press freedom in Cuba, in which he cites Reporters sans Frontières as his only source, is another example.
The “axis of evil”
On being asked whether he had expressed concern to the US administration regarding the inclusion of Cuba on the list of countries designated by the United States as a so-called “axis of evil,” the minister replied:
“I am not aware that the US administration has taken the action described by the deputy. I am aware that Dr Rice referred to Cuba as an outpost of tyranny’ at her confirmation hearings in the US Senate. The Government has long been concerned about human rights abuses in Cuba. At the same time, we continue to encourage a process of peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in that country, as well as wishing to see a sustainable economic recovery and an improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people.”
Dermot Ahern 27 January, 2005
Seriously, that was his answer. No hint of concern for the consequences of such a declaration for Cuba or its people; no “summoning” of the US ambassador for an explanation”just a repeat of the mantra.
Terrorism against Cuba
On being asked if he would urge the US government to investigate the activities of terrorist groups based in the United States that attack the people of Cuba, the minister replied:
“In the absence of more detailed information on the identity and the nature and activities of any such groups, I am afraid that I am not in a position to make a comment.”
Dermot Ahern, 16 November 2004
Terrorism against Cuba? The Irish government cannot even be bothered to be bothered. Terrorism against the United States? Now that’s a different story. The Irish government is prepared to bend over backwards and is very understanding and tolerant of many “irregular” responses, because Ireland “is a friend of the United States.”
The blockade a “bilateral issue”
“The European Union believes that United States trade policy towards Cuba is fundamentally a bilateral issue. Nevertheless, the European Union and its member-states have clearly expressed their opposition to the extraterritorial extension of the United States embargo, such as that contained in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.”
Dermot Ahern, 30 September 2004 (and various other occasions)
The US blockade of Cuba is not a bilateral issue. The United States introduced extraterritorial dimensions to its laws, and as long as those extraterritorial dimensions remain no country can claim that the blockade is a bilateral issue. And even if it was a bilateral issue, that would not in itself absolve other countries from taking a position on the issues involved.
The very existence of the “common position” and various “understandings” emerged in part or directly from the discussions (if that is what you could call them) between the United States and the European Union over the Helms-Burton Act and its extraterritorial aspect. Some of the extraterritorial aspects that directly affront the sensibilities of European countries are repeatedly suspended by successive US presidents on condition that the European Union places issues such as human rights and democracy at the forefront of its relations with Cuba.
In effect, the European Union declares that it is opposed to the blockade and votes against the blockade at the UN General Assembly. On the other hand, to avoid some of the ramifications of the extraterritorial aspects of the blockade legislation, the European Union has reached an agreement with the United States to adopt aggressive policies towards Cuba in return for the suspension of the offending sections (offending to European countries) of the legislation.
In fact the European Union”if it is to defend its own legislation and legislation in the individual member-states in relation to external interference in their affairs”has no choice but to vote against the blockade at the UN General Assembly. It is not a principled position, only a necessary one.
However, the “common position” and the various “understandings” that exist between the European Union and the United States are matters in which the European Union can take whatever position it chooses; and it chooses to be aggressive and hostile towards Cuba. It should hardly be necessary to remind the Irish government and the European Union that Cuba is the victim and the United States is the aggressor.
A further look at the statement above exposes the Irish government’s real position. “United States trade policy towards Cuba” is a how the minister describes a devastating and illegal blockade; and describing this “trade policy” as “fundamentally a bilateral issue” is simply code for siding with the United States on whether this “trade policy” is a blockade or is illegal or otherwise.
“The blockade is easing”
“I have already welcomed President Clinton’s announcement of March 1998 on the opening of a number of contacts with Cuba. Last month the US announced proposals for further measures, including fewer restrictions on flights to Cuba and on remittances to Cubans, a direct mail service with the island, and a system that allows private Cuban entities to buy US food and agricultural inputs.”
David Andrews, 16 February 1999
“It is encouraging to note that there has been some recent progress on this matter. Following developments during the summer in both the US Senate and House of Representatives, Senate and House leaders on 5 October agreed provisions lifting restrictions on the sale of food and medicines to Cuba. If these measures are approved by formal vote, they will represent a significant partial step towards lifting the embargo.”
Brian Cowen, 11 October 2000
“It is regrettable that the partial easing of the US embargo, after a vote by the US Congress in October 2000 to lift the ban on the sale of food and medicines, has not been followed up by the embargo’s complete removal. Nevertheless I welcome the fact that the relaxation of the embargo has enabled Cuba to purchase a considerable volume of US food products; for which, however, Havana has had to pay cash, as US financial institutions remain prohibited from extending credits for such sales. Ireland wishes to see a full and final end to the embargo. It is our belief that the effect of the embargo even in its now somewhat modified form is to work contrary to stated EU and US aspirations for a democratic and prosperous Cuba.”
Brian Cowen, 27 February 2003
Talk about grasping at straws! The US blockade of Cuba is probably tighter now than it has ever been. In addition, relations between the United States and Cuba are at their most dangerous level in decades. Yet the government always looks on the alleged bright side, as long as the bright side is emanating from the United States. It never matters what the Cubans have to say on the matter, even though they are on the receiving end of the continuing blockade.
Vote against Cuba at the Human Rights Commission
“At the recent session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Ireland, together with all our EU partners on the Commission, voted against the proposed Cuban amendment to the resolution on human rights in Cuba tabled by four Latin American countries. This amendment, in essence, condemned the US economic embargo. However, Ireland and many other countries took the view that the amendment was inappropriate to a human rights context.”
Brian Cowen, 18 June 2003
It should first be noted that the resolution tabled by the four Latin American countries was described by Cuba as having been drafted by and presented on behalf of the United States. The resolution itself was of course a condemnation of Cuba. When Cuba introduced an amendment that condemned the US blockade on human rights grounds, the Irish and other EU delegations voted against the amendment, declaring that this was not a human rights issue. This again exposes the fact that neither the Irish government nor the European Union has ever considered the human rights infringements suffered by the Cuban people as a result of the blockade; and judging by the position adopted above, they have no intention of doing so in the future.
The US blockade is never referred to with regard to its effects on the human rights of the Cuban people, despite the inclusion of a ban on trading food and medicine, for instance. The nearest the Irish government has come to acknowledging the harm done to the people of Cuba was the following statement:
“The Government, in common with our partners in the EU, believes that the US economic embargo on Cuba seriously hampers the economic development of Cuba and negatively affects all of its people”.
Dermot Ahern, 24 November 2004
There are those who would argue that there are historical reasons for the position of the Irish government on Cuba, that these are difficult to overcome, and that the political, economic and civil structures in Cuba do not make it easy for the Irish government to be a “friend of Cuba.”
In the past this might have been a view worth considering. It might even have been possible to believe that Irish and EU policies towards Cuba were not being framed”directly or indirectly”by the United States. All this might have been worth an argument, except for one event.
In February 2006 the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, was asked for “his views on recent aggressive statements made on behalf of the United States Government by its Secretary of Defence, Mr Donald Rumsfeld, with respect to certain democratically elected heads of state in Latin America, including the likening of President Chávez of Venezuela to Adolf Hitler; his further views on continuing allegations of United States conduct of espionage, support for a general strike, and other efforts to undermine and remove the Government of that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
To all intents and purposes, Ahern’s response might have been written by Donald Rumsfeld. The minister failed to respond to most of the important issues raised in the question and concentrated on attempting to undermine a properly elected head of state, and mimicked US policy as if he was a parrot. His reply (below) requires, and deserves, no further comment.
“I am aware of recent comments which [the] US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has made, including a likening of President Chávez to Adolf Hitler. Such comments reflect continuing tensions in relations between the United States and the Government of Venezuela, which are also reflected in, inter alia, accusations of espionage. It goes without saying that any political change in Venezuela should not occur other than peacefully and democratically.
“The EU continues to follow the situation in Venezuela with great interest, in particular efforts to promote national reconciliation and respect for democratic principles, tolerance, and dialogue. The legislative elections which took place in December 2005, unfortunately, did not contribute to the reduction of divisions in Venezuelan society, which is characterised by extreme political polarisation and regular acts of political violence. In this sense, they represented a lost opportunity. The EU remains concerned about aspects of a number of policies being pursued by the Venezuelan Government, particularly in relation to the independence of the judiciary and the media. We will continue to monitor the political situation in Venezuela and seek to engage constructively with the Administration of President Chávez.””Dermot Ahern, 22 February 2006
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral” (Paulo Freire, 19211997, Brazilian educationalist).
However, Ireland has not contented itself with washing its hands of the problem presented by US aggression against Cuba. Ireland has joined in the oppression at every opportunity and made itself a willing accomplice in a crime against the Cuban people. The US blockade of Cuba is a crime”a crime that has been condemned again and again at just about every international forum worth talking about, including the General Assembly of the United Nations (fourteen successive resolutions) and the most recent EU-Latin American summit meeting. The scale and extent of the crime are such that no country can claim ignorance of what has been going on for almost fifty years.
The most recent review of the “common position,” in June 2006, continues to complicate the situation. Under the guise of offering “constructive engagement” the EU position actually continued the aggression. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the overt and covert interference in Cuban domestic affairs and how Cuba responds to that interference. However, the European Union’s and Ireland’s position allows for no such discussion. Cuba is supposed to behave as if it exists in a world of peace and harmony, instead of in the grip of the longest economic, commercial and financial blockade in modern history (not to mention the military interventions perpetrated against it by the United States). While Irish governments and most other European governments reserve the right to enact and operate special legislation to protect themselves from internal or external threats (Offences Against the State Act, Special Criminal Courts, Drugs Act, etc.), Cuba is allowed no such luxury to protect itself from the external and internal threats it faces. In typical “First World” style, the demands are being made of the victim and not of the aggressor”particularly when the aggressor is of “First world” origin.
Why should Cuba not protect itself? Do the measures adopted in Cuba to protect itself from US aggression have to be approved in the Dáil before they can be implemented? More to the point, Why do the European Union and Ireland not demand that the United States desist from interfering in the domestic affairs of Cuba? The United States is acknowledged as the aggressor, but the EU response (supported by Ireland) is to direct further aggression against Cuba, either on its own initiative or, more likely, under US direction.
The extraordinary aspect of Irish and EU policy towards Cuba is that Ireland, and all the other EU countries, cannot but be aware of the scale of US aggression against Cuba yet side with the oppressor in almost every aspect of the aggression. Even the European Parliament as far back as 1993 stated that “the economic, trade and financial embargo imposed by the United States is affecting the civilian population above all, depriving them of food, medicines and basic necessities.” While they never tire of telling us that they vote against the blockade at the General Assembly, they also avail of every opportunity to side with the United States on matters relating to Cuba. For all our talk about human rights, Ireland has never lifted a finger to protect the Cuban people from US aggression or from the effects of US aggression.
In relation to human rights and democracy, the least we can expect is that Ireland should look at these issues as they apply in the United States as closely as it looks at how they apply in Cuba. There is no question of Irish links with the United States (including trade and diplomatic links) being linked to, or dependent on, its performance in the areas of human rights and democracy. Yet these issues come to the forefront in Ireland’s relations with Cuba.
We believe that it is no coincidence that Ireland’s position towards Cuba is so close to that of the United States. The shame of all this is that the aggressor continues to set the agenda, and Ireland continues to perform like a ventriloquist’s dummy.
The United States has now declared Venezuela the number 1 enemy in South America, and the ventriloquist’s dummy has joined the chorus of “concern” about developments in Venezuela under the baton of the United States, with a little “constructive engagement” thrown in for good measure. In the solidarity movements we have a saying: “Cuba is not alone!” Now that Venezuela has joined the undesirable list, the Irish government appears to have stolen our slogan, but in the most disgraceful and predictably slavish manner possible.
The Cuba Support Group is available on request to deal in detail with any of the issues addressed in this study. Email: email@example.com
DECLAN McKENNA is a former Co-ordinator of the Cuba Support Group-Ireland.