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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January, 2005, 23:29 GMT
Cautious EU greets Cuba gesture
Cuban President Fidel Castro
Many EU nations believe dialogue is the best approach to Cuba
A European Union commission spokeswoman has called Cuba's move to re-establish contacts with eight EU countries "a step in the right direction".

Monday's move signalled a thaw in the "cocktail wars" which have stymied Cuba-EU ties since June 2003.

The dispute boiled over when eight European embassies began inviting Cuban dissidents to parties in protest at Cuba's human rights record.

A prominent dissident said the European gesture had served its purpose.

Piecemeal peacemaking

The spokeswoman for the commission - the EU's executive arm - said Cuba's decision to re-establish contacts with eight European capitals was a "positive development".

Changes in Cuba depend on us, on the people of Cuba
Oswaldo Paya
Leading Cuban dissident
But Francoise Le Bail said the commission wanted a full resumption of ties, reported the AFP news agency.

The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia remain out of Cuba's favour. Diplomats say those nations have opposed a softening of ties with Havana.

The dispute began over Cuba's imprisonment of 75 dissidents - which Havana says are mercenaries in the pay of Washington - and its execution of three men who attempted to hijack a ferry.

The European Union announced it would limit high-level government contacts in response. It also began inviting Cuban dissidents to national-day celebrations at embassies.

Havana was so enraged by the move that it cut contacts with all European embassies except Belgium, which did not invite dissidents to events.

European rethink

But Spain has spearheaded a new approach calling for increased European dialogue with Cuba.

And last month Brussels proposed a compromise: not to ask any Cubans to future receptions, whether they are government ministers or dissidents.

Raul Rivero
Paul Rivero is one of the 14 of 75 dissidents Cuba has released
In Havana, Oswaldo Paya, one of the leaders of the dissident Varela democracy project, played down the apparently conciliatory air.

"The EU had made the decision to invite us as an expression of solidarity with the people of Cuba, as a gesture of displeasure with the detention of our 75 brothers," Mr Paya told the Associated Press news agency.

He said change in Cuba depended "on us, on the people of Cuba".

He said that within the EU there was "the goodwill to contribute" to such change.

Havana halts EU 'cocktail wars'
04 Jan 05 |  Americas
Cuba releases leading dissident
30 Nov 04 |  Americas
EU ponders softer stance on Cuba
19 Oct 04 |  Americas
Spain and Cuba in expulsion row
17 Oct 04 |  Americas
Cuban dissident economist freed
23 Jul 04 |  Americas
Cuba's cocktail wars
15 Jul 03 |  Americas

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