BRUSSELS, Belgium – The European Union on Thursday agreed to lift its diplomatic sanctions against Cuba but imposed tough conditions on the Communist island to maintain sanction-free relations, officials said.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the bloc felt it had to encourage changes in Cuba after Raul Castro took over as the head of the country's government from his ailing brother Fidel.
"There will be very clear language also on what the Cubans still have to do ... releasing prisoners, really working on human rights questions," she told reporters at an EU summit. "There will be a sort of review to see whether indeed something will have happened."
The measures were imposed in 2003 and were suspended in 2005. Some EU nations — including the Czech Republic and Sweden — were reluctant to lift the diplomatic sanctions entirely during this week's two-day summit, saying they wanted to see Cuba improve human rights first.
Washington imposed a trade blockade of Cuba almost 50 years ago and has no immediate plans to lift it.
EU foreign ministers at the summit approved a set of conditions to be imposed on Castro's regime in return for sanction-free relations.
They include the release of all political prisoners; access for Cubans to the Internet; and a double-track approach for all EU delegations arriving in Cuba, allowing them to meet both opposition figures and members of the Cuban government.
The EU will evaluate Cuba's progress in a year's time and could take new measures if human rights do not improve, officials said.
The EU sanctions were introduced after Cuba's government rounded up 75 dissidents in 2003. Sixteen of those arrested have been released on medical parole and another four were freed last month into forced exile in Spain. But 55 of them are still serving long prison sentences.