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Controversial visit

August 29, 2009

Cuba has filed a formal protest against diplomats from five European Union countries who visited the home of a leading political activist in Havana this week.

2 Cuban policemen in front of a large painted sign, reading 'Long Live Cuba'
Despite improved relations with Cuba, the EU still has concerns about the government's treatment of political dissidentsImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The Cuban government on Friday summoned the ambassadors of Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Poland and Britain - the countries whose diplomats made the visit - to say they had threatened recently improved EU-Cuba ties.

Government press officers also summoned a number of foreign journalists based in Havana to complain that they had covered the event and allowed themselves to be "manipulated and used" by diplomats seeking publicity.

"The message was of criticism about the visit, meddling in Cuban internal affairs and putting at risk the political dialog. It was a pretty strong move," a European diplomat was quoted as saying by news agency Reuters.

"A question mark" on arrest

On Thursday, the diplomats from Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Poland and Great Britain visited the home of prominent Cuban dissident and physician, Darsi Ferrer, to bring his his wife food, clothing and other donations.

Ferer was arrested and jailed on July 21. He faces charges of illegal economic activity for buying two sacks of cement on the black market to repair his house.

His wife told foreign media that the government was accusing him of alleged criminal acts to avoid having to admit that he is a political prisoner.

"There's a question mark when it comes to this arrest," Swedish diplomat Ingemar Cederberg told Reuters. "There are accusations that belong to the category of common crime, not really political, and (our visit) is a way of showing our interest that the case should advance and get clarified."

EU concerns about human rights

As a political activist, Ferrer organizes a march in Havana every year calling on the Cuban government to respect human rights.

Ferrer is an independent journalist and regularly publishes surveys and investigations about the social situation in Cuba. He is currently supporting a "people's petition" to legalize the private ownership of property on the communist-ruled island.

Last October, Cuba and the EU began a diplomatic dialog and cautious process of easing tensions after a period of frosty relations following Cuba's mass incarceration of opposition leaders in 2003.

Despite improved relations with Cuba, the European Union remains concerned about the communist government's treatment of political opponents.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights said in a recent report that there were 208 political prisoners on the island.


Editor: Sonia Phalnikar