|The Courier N° 185 - March - April 2001 - Dossier: Cinema - Country Reports: Angola (EC Courier, 2001, 76 p.)|
The ACP group is expanding once again. On 14 December 2000, the Council of Ministers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of States, meeting in Brussels, passed a resolution with immediate effect admitting Cuba as its 78th member. There was, however, one special feature: Cuba became the first ACP country to take no part in cooperation with the European Union under Cotonou. The Courier met Rene J. Mujica, the Cuban Ambassador, who sees this membership as another step in the right direction.
Cubas joining the ACP group is the culmination of several years work. What were the decisive stages in this process?
Firstly, it is important to remember that this is in the mutual interests of Cuba and its neighbours. We all share a common environment in the Caribbean region. We form a large number of island states, so we all participate in a process aimed at the integration of our countries, enabling us to rise more successfully to the challenges facing us as developing countries. It was for that reason, and also because of the ties that already exist between us, that the Caribbean ACP countries gave such strong support to the idea that Cuba could join this association of nation states in the Lomonvention. Two or three years ago, it became apparent to us that other ACP member countries also strongly advocated the idea of Cuba participating fully in the activities of the group. This is hardly surprising because for decades we have enjoyed a close and diversified relationship with the countries of Africa. What is left is to get to know the Pacific countries. The whole process happened rather quickly: in 1998, in Barbados, the ACPs decided without hesitation to admit us as observers. This meant that we attended the negotiations which led to the signing of the new EU-ACP partnership agreement. Other notable events were the Summit of ACP Heads of State and government, in Santo Domingo at the end of 1999, where support for Cuba was expressed at the highest level. Later, at the beginning of 2000, the ACP Ministerial meeting in Brussels translated this expression into a firm decision to invite Cuba to sign the new Agreement on an equal footing with the other ACP Group members.
At the ministerial meeting in Cotonou before the agreement was signed, the ACP group expressed regret at the events which had led to the withdrawal of our application, and reaffirmed that, even under these circumstances, Cuba should still be a full member of the ACP group. This explicit backing was followed by the visit to our country last August of a large delegation headed by Georges-Anicet DologuelPrime Minister of Central Africa and current President of the ACP Council of Ministers. This mission met President Fidel Castro and several members of the government.
One significant detail: prior to your being welcomed into the ACP family, an alteration had to be made to the groups founding text...
Yes, thats true. The ACP groups charter, the Georgetown Agreement (1975), made no provision for the possibility of accepting a new member which did not participate in cooperation with the ED. So the Councils decision to admit us went hand in hand With a decision to amend this Agreement. I think that all this reveals without doubt that the ACP Group has reached full maturity, with a sense of its own identity and political independence.
So you are now the only ACP State not to have signed the Cotonou Agreement. Is your decision irrevocable?
We realised, as observers right through the duration of the negotiating process, and even afterwards when we were examining the final draft, that the possibility was still open to us to accept the terms on which it is based. But, just when we were ready to sign it, the stance taken by certain ED member countries, based on the EUs common position on Cuba adopted at the end of 1996, led them to put up objections and to insist on political preconditions which were unacceptable, even outside the terms of the agreement itself, which I hasten to emphasise we would otherwise have signed. Certain events took place which made it clear that Europe was not prepared to adopt a non-selective, non-discriminatory position towards us in the context of the political decisions which could have led to our being included in the agreement, and in all probability, being able to implement it. We decided to withdraw our request for membership for these reasons. When we look back on this situation, we are forced to conclude that - quite the opposite of the ACP countries - the EU is just not able to adopt an autonomous position that is sufficiently independent of the USA in its relations with Cuba. Admittedly, the EU does not support the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba by the USA for the past 40 years, which is an attempt to strangle us. We do have commercial and economic relations in a number of different areas under normal conditions with the EU - which I believe makes the common EU position even more incomprehensible. The fact is that certain aspects of Europes political decisions in regard to Cuba are leaning too far towards the American measures as far as practical consequences are concerned. In fact, even if it is not the intention, the reality is that we are now confronted with economic disadvantages in our external trade. Unfortunately the common EU position comes with strings attached that are remarkably similar to those of Washington, which ride roughshod over our fundamental and legitimate rights to endow ourselves with the political, social and economic institutions which we believe are appropriate to our history, cultural traditions and aspirations. International law is founded on key criteria such as independence, state sovereignty and self-determination of peoples and so on. Cuba has as much right to these as any other country. As a matter of fact, the ACPs have expressed their willingness to help overcome these disagreements with the European Union through dialogue. We are of course open to any serious political dialogue which could positively enrich the experience of both parties and their mutual comprehension. But, all too often, the language of political dialogue coming from certain nations sounds more like an arrogant monologue. If we want dialogue to succeed, we will have to find a realistic way to define the principles of such an exchange. For us, the only acceptable principle is rooted in international law. I dont think that our present ACP membership will have any negative repercussions in the future, but rather the opposite. We are open to political dialogue and we will not hesitate to reply to a constructive approach from the EU. But at the moment the ball is not in our court.
Could Cubas membership be seen as this indicative of a new approach among the ACP countries - viewing development in the wider context of cooperation relations, including relations between the countries of the South?
Yes, we already have relations with most of the ACPs on one level or another. But this process is prompting us also to forge closer bonds with others, particularly with the Pacific countries. These relations are wide-ranging -diplomatic, economic, political, cultural, educational, scientific, and so on. Over the years, we have sent tens of thousands of voluntary workers to Africa and the Caribbean. Tens of thousands of citizens of these countries have also been able to come to Cuba for training. Unquestionably, however, it is the developing countries which bear the brunt of the enormous challenges of globalisation. It is crucial that we pool our efforts so that our voices are heard and our legitimate aspirations and basic rights (such as the right to genuine sustainable development) are taken into consideration in the multilateral arenas. This is something which can only intensify as time goes on.
How have the people of Cuba reacted to this news?
The Cuban people are extremely well educated and highly politically aware. They understand very clearly that this new dimension to our relations with ACP countries brings us all increased possibilities for working together and expands our capacity for political action. Only through political action will the situation ever change. The Cuban public is well aware that what is currently being done on the international stage to meet the needs of the countries of the South is inadequate. Initiatives from the North are always welcome when it comes to debt, poverty or access to markets, but they are still too limited and will not in themselves be sufficient to solve the problems. Much more must be done, but to make this possible, it is vital that the developing countries send out a clear signal by staying united, active and committed and by both claiming and seizing any chance to participate more effectively in the decision-making process on the international stage. Both dialogue and the ACP-EU cooperation can play crucial roles in this context. Cubas membership of the ACP Group is another step in the right direction.
Interview: Aya Kasasa