CubaNews / November 2005
By Larry Luxner
Karl Buck, a key official at the Council of the European Union in Brussels, defends the EU’s more lenient policy towards Cuba but concedes that the Europeans haven’t been much more successful than the Americans in promoting democracy on the island.
“We are a civil power and we have the same goals as the United States, but our different capacities explain our different approaches,” said Buck, head of the EU Council’s Latin American division.
“We want to encourage a process of peaceful transition, but we have failed in this approach, as has the United States. Neither of us has had a lot of success.”
“Our approach is dialogue and possible cooperation,” Buck explained. “In 2003, following the crackdown on the opposition, the EU adopted some diplomatic sanctions. However, that turned out to limit our field of possible intervention. It is easier to be right in words than efficient on the ground. It was unforeseeable that Castro would completely freeze our relations for those embassies inviting dissidents to national days.
“We reacted in a diplomatic, moral way, and for this we paid dearly. This reduced nearly to zero our possibilities to intervene on behalf of political prisoners.”
Buck, a native of Germany, studied political science, history and Romance languages in Tuebingen, Germany; Lyon, France, and Santi-ago, Chile. He did post-graduate studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Since 1978, Buck has served in various official capacities at the EU Council Secretariat in Brussels. His publications include topics on European political parties and Eurocommunism.
“It is clear that personal contacts and trade were decisive in bringing down communism in Europe. I suggest we do the same with Cuba,” said Buck, though he added: “I’m not denying that an important element, the arms race, brought the Soviet Union into a very difficult economic situation, and that in the end, Gorbachev was convinced he could not win that race.”
On the other hand, he said “I’m not sure Raúl will become the Cuban Gorbachev, but we should get in contact with the army. In Eastern Europe, the communists gave up without their armies having fired a single shot.”
To those who criticize the EU’s recent decision to lift sanctions against Castro, Buck has this to say: “Lifting the sanctions is no guarantee of success, but it was a necessary step to open ways of talking to the Cuban government. Not only did we lift sanctions; we’ve also decided to reinforce contacts with dissidents, though we don’t always go public with these contacts.”
In the first six months since that decision, he said, the European Commission has had over 100 contacts with opposition figures in Havana, and 60 such contacts in the provinces.
“The position taken by the EU Council says human rights should be raised by every high-level visitor. I don’t think it’s very pleasant for a Cuban minister when we — in every single visit — raise these issues,” he said. “We are not happy about this situation, but I think we made the right choice.”