Sunday, January 16, 2005

ANOTHER LETDOWN to Cuba's democratic opposition: after an invitation to fly to Spain to meet with government officials, the talk was called off:
The chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation criticized the Spanish Foreign Minister on Saturday for inviting the organization to a meeting in Madrid to discuss Cuba -- then canceling at the last minute.

The reason for the cancellation, says director Jorge Mas Santos, is pressure from the Cuban government, which has been lobbying the European Union to normalize relations with the island nation after tensions mounted over the arrest of scores of dissidents in 2003.

''Any government is free to advance its own agenda, but it's important to listen to our point of view,'' said Mas Santos, who spent more than eight hours on the flight from Miami to Madrid.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Maratinos was supposed to meet with Mas Santos and two other CANF members Friday evening.

Maratinos, however, canceled about an hour before the planned meeting because of supposed scheduling conflicts, Mas Santos said.

Officials at the Spanish Consulate in Washington could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Relations between Cuba and the EU have been strained since March 2003, when Fidel Castro's government arrested 75 dissidents and sentenced the dissidents to long prison terms.

In response, the EU reduced high-level governmental visits and began inviting dissidents to embassy gatherings.

Cuba answered by cutting contacts with EU diplomats. But late last year, the Cuban government released 14 dissidents, and an EU panel recommended restoring high-level visits to the island.

This month, Cuba announced it had reestablished ties with eight European countries.

Spain's Socialist government has lobbyed for restoration of ties between Cuba and the EU.