Feeling the Heat in Havana

Last month, some 150 dissidents in Cuba met openly to plan for a peaceful transition to a post-Castro era. It was the first large-scale meeting in 46 years not authorized by the communist dictator. Such courage signals Cuba's inevitable transition to a pluralistic democracy.

Yet the reaction in Europe to this political assemblage, unlike in the US which welcomed it, was striking. Last week, the European Union decided to continue barring opponents of Fidel Castro from visiting the embassies of EU members in Havana. And it did this despite the fact that Cuba expelled two EU politicians who came to Havana to address the May 20 pro-democracy assembly.

The EU did put Mr. Castro on notice that it plans to monitor his treatment of pro-democracy groups. But that's half a loaf in the efforts to shape Cuba's emergence from the shadow of Castro.

The EU has often used a carrot-and-stick approach to bring more democratic policies and civil rights to many countries. Likewise, it can tap the experience and moral authority of its Eastern European members which peacefully threw off their own dictators.

In the Cuban people's march to democracy, first steps require organizations independent of the state - and for many Cubans, independent of the United States as well. That's why the EU role in Cuba is so critical. It doesn't have anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Florida wielding undue influence in US national elections.

Cuba's transition to democracy could be messy. Divisions among anti-Castro groups are strong. By putting Castro on notice that democratic aspirations must be accommodated, the EU can send the same signal to all Cubans.

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