Thursday, December 23, 2010

USAID-funded group pressured Spain on rights abuses in Cuba

This 2004 cable discusses a USAID-funded group in Spain, Cuba en Transicion.
The NGO's director, Rafael Rubio, told U.S. political officer Ricardo Zuniga that he was going to urge the government of Spain to:
  • Raise the public profile of the regular EU-Cuban opposition exchanges the GOS has pledged to activate in Havana.
  • Create public space in the Spanish Embassy in Havana for civil society, similar to the USINT Havana media center.
  • Distribute books and information materials to Cuban citizens, including both political and non-political literature.
  • Create an official Spanish "human rights officer" position in Havana to act as a POC for democracy activists and for human rights NGOs overseas.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04MADRID4827 2004-12-22 14:02 2010-12-17 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Madrid

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2014
TAGS: PREL CU SP
SUBJECT: LOCAL NGO PRESSURES SPAIN ON CUBA HUMAN RIGHTS

Classified By: Political officer Ricardo Zuniga; reason 1.4 (D)

¶1. (C) Summary. On 12/21, Poloff met with Rafael Rubio, head
of the Spanish NGO "Cuba en Transicion" (Cuba in Transition),
a human rights organization dedicated to raising public
awareness in Spain about human rights abuses in Cuba. Rubio,
who generally works with the Popular Party (PP) but has also
sought to expand his links to the Socialist Party, said that
his organization is pressing the GOS to take concrete
measures in support of Cuban civil society, "since the only
concrete measure they've taken so far is to exclude
dissidents from national day events." Rubio said that,
despite public claims of a victory for Spanish policy in
Brussels, the GOS has opened the door for NGOs such as his to
lobby for higher-profile EU support for the Cuban opposition.
He has made little headway with Socialist Party leaders,
some of whom cling to a romantic vision of the Cuban
revolution, and is now focused on influencing the MFA. Rubio
said he is perplexed by the UK's support for easing EU
measures against Cuba and asked about the importance of Cuba
in GOS-USG relations. Poloff responded that Cuba is an
important issue at the highest levels of the USG and that
Spain's change in tack towards the GOS over the last year had
not helped bilateral ties. Rubio's organization is small,
but working with allied NGOs, it may manage to rein in
Socialist desires to further ease Spanish and EU policy
towards Cuba. End Summary.

//PREACHING TO THE UN-CONVERTED//

¶2. (C) Cuba in Transition is a small, but well-connected NGO
(www.cubaentransicion.com) that is unusual in that it has no
Cuban exiles in its membership. It receives a small USAID
grant through the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.
Rubio said he has attempted to work through the Socialist
Party (PSOE) before approaching the government. His
objective is to sensitize PSOE to the massive scale of Cuba's
repression in an effort to eliminate a lingering sense of
political affinity for Castro among some elements of the
Socialist Party. He has made little headway, primarily
because the PSOE remains wary of publicly criticizing the
Castro regime and because the Socialists have determined that
so-called "moderate" dissidents Gutierrez Menoyo and Manuel
XXXXXXXXXXXXX are the only dissidents worth listening to.
Rubio said the "moderates'" message of working with the
Castro regime to encourage gradual change was seductive to EU
left wing parties such as the PSOE (NOTE: PSOE has brushed
aside dissident suspicions that xxxxxxxxxxxx is in fact a
Cuban Government agent. END NOTE.) Rubio said he was taken
aback to hear PSOE members criticize Project Varela leader
Oswaldo Paya as "too conservative" and as "a tool of the
Miami exile community," especially given Paya's well-known
differences with Miami groups. This echoes PSOE comments to
a visiting National Democratic Institute representative that
Paya's anti-abortion stance and good relations with former
President Aznar had alienated the PSOE.

¶3. (C) Rubio said he had inundated Spanish Ambassador to Cuba
Carlos Saldivar with information regarding GOC abuses for
many months. He believed he had managed to at least get
Saldivar, a former Spanish Communist Party member, to
question his preconceptions about Castro. However, Rubio
said Saldivar "remains a Marxist in his basic world view" and
may be fundamentally incapable of conducting an objective
evaluation of conditions in Cuba.

//MAKING THE BEST OF A BAD SITUATION//

¶4. (C) Having determined that the PSOE is not likely to veer
from its cautious stance towards aiding the opposition,
Rubio has gone directly to the Socialist Government. He
recently approached the MFA to encourage them to take
specific steps to comply with Spain's claim that it intends
to ramp up contact with the dissidents to offset their
dis-invitation from EU national day events. Specifically,
Rubio is urging the GOS to:

- Raise the public profile of the regular EU-Cuban opposition
exchanges the GOS has pledged to activate in Havana.

- Create public space in the Spanish Embassy in Havana for
civil society, similar to the USINT Havana media center.

- Distribute books and information materials to Cuban
citizens, including both political and non-political
literature.

- Create an official Spanish "human rights officer" position
in Havana to act as a POC for democracy activists and for
human rights NGOs overseas.

¶5. (C) Rubio said he had told MFA DG for Latin America Javier
Sandomingo that the opposition could not accept having its
relations with the EU downgraded, since this implied that
Europe did not consider the activists to be legitimate
political actors. Rubio asked Sandomingo to support a human
rights conference he is trying to organize in Madrid two days
prior to the January 31 review/approval by EU foreign
ministers of the COLAT experts recommendation to modify the
EU restrictive measures. The goal of the conference would be
to provide concrete recommendations to the EU on how to
structure assistance to Cuban civil society, based on the
EU's experience supporting democracy activists in other
countries.

//INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT//

¶6. (C) Rubio expressed his consternation that the UK had
"turned its back" on Cuba's human rights activists, saying it
was inconceivable to him that a country with the UK's
tradition of support for human rights would have agreed to
weaken EU measures against the GOC given the lack of progress
in Cuba. With respect to the U.S., he asked whether the Cuba
issue was a genuinely important issue in bilateral relations
with Spain. Poloff replied that Cuba was a very important
matter to the USG and that we were very skeptical regarding
Spain's current approach. While we have good working
relations with the GOS on many issues, Cuba developments were
not helping the bilateral relationship.

//COMMENT//

¶7. (C) Rubio's close association with the opposition PP
complicates his efforts to influence the ruling Socialists.
He is aware of this and focuses on basic human rights issues
in order to avoid becoming ensnarled in the politics
surrounding Spanish policy towards Cuba. Cuba in Transition
is a small organization with limited objectives, but its
members are genuinely committed to the issues and are capable
of keeping Cuba human rights in the public eye. The best we
may be able to hope for over the near term is that activists
such as Rubio will manage to keep alive the domestic debate
over Cuba policy, preventing the GOS from going too far in
easing pressure on Castro.
MANZANARES

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