E.U. will shoot itself in the foot if it gives an honorable welcome to Cuba’s dictator | Opinion

The 27-country European Union is about to do something really stupid: Give a red-carpet welcome to Cuba’s dictator Miguel Diaz-Canel, even though Cuba is a massive human-rights violator and one of the world’s the most enthusiastic supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Diaz-Canel has been invited, along with all Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, to attend the July 17-18 summit of the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Brussels, Belgium. The Cuban dictator tweeted on July 13 that he will attend the meeting.

Unlike President Biden’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last year, the E.U. leadership has decided to invite all Latin American presidents, including the dictators of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. While it’s unclear whether those from Venezuela and Nicaragua will attend, these invitations fly in the face of the E.U.’s stated commitment to defend democracy and human rights across the world.

The timing for Diaz-Canel’s invitation couldn’t be worse. Cubans just marked the second anniversary of the historic July 11, 2021, largely peaceful anti-government demonstrations, which resulted in more than 1,500 arrests.

Two years later, more than 700 of those arrested for exercising their right to free expression remain in jail, which makes Cuba the country with the most political prisoners in the Americas, international human rights groups say. Some of those detained during the 2021protests have been sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

By inviting Diaz-Canel to the summit, the E.U. will not only help legitimize Cuba’s dictator, but will also give an international podium to one of Russia’s closest allies in the world.

Cuba’s propaganda machine, including its state-run media and the regional Telesur television network, is probably the largest broadcaster of Russia’s disinformation in Latin America. It almost daily tries to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mirroring Russia’s state media.

Amazingly, the E.U.’s decision to invite the Cuban dictator is in open contradiction with the recommendations of the European Parliament.

The European Parliament late last year declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism because of its war crimes in Ukraine and has called for sanctions against Russia’s allies.

In a July 12 resolution, the European Parliament said that it “condemns the Cuban regime’s support for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” and says that, “Autocratic regimes should not participate in summits of countries that share democratic values and respect human rights.”

Why is the European Union extending an invitation to Diaz-Canel? Several European analysts I asked told me that it’s because Spain’s Socialist government and other European countries feel that Europe needs to reconnect with what they refer to as the “global South.”

According to this school of thought, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has united European countries against Russia’s war of aggression, it has also driven a wedge between Europe and Latin America, Africa and Asia. Now, the European Union wants to hold this E.U.-CELAC summit in an effort to re-establish those ties.

Carlos Malamud, a Latin America analyst with the Madrid-based Elcano Royal Institute think tank, told me that the E.U. allowed CELAC to invite all Latin American and Caribbean leaders, including Diaz-Canel, because it feared that key Latin American heads of state would boycott the meeting if Cuba was not invited. That’s exactly what happened when Biden excluded Cuba from his Summit of the Americas last year, he noted.

“In light of what happened at the last Summit of the Americas, not inviting Cuba would have resulted in a much less successful meeting,” Malamud told me.

The European Parliament’s July 12 resolution, approved 359-226, said that the E.U.-CELAC summit should approve a declaration demanding that both regions respect human rights, “paying special attention to the lack of democracy and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.”

Indeed, such a statement — with additional mentions of Venezuela and Nicaragua — would be the least the European Union could do to save itself from a major embarrassment.

Otherwise, if Diaz-Canel attends the meeting and is given the same official honors as democratically elected leaders, it will be very hard to take the Europeans seriously when they talk about democracy and human rights.

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