‘If we suspend EU-Nicaragua agreements, the regime will not care, the population will not’

'If we suspend EU-Nicaragua agreements, the regime will not care, the population will not'

On July 17 and 18, Brussels will host the summit of the EU and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, grouped in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). RFI spoke with Peter Stano, spokesman for the European Commission on Foreign Affairs, about the situation in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

RFI: The European Parliament voted again in June for a new resolution condemning the Daniel Ortega regime for its continued repression and violation of human rights in Nicaragua. Is it expected that there will be a declaration in this sense also at the CELAC-European Union summit?

Peter Stano: The summit between the European Union and CELAC is a summit between two regions and between two regional organizations. It does not focus on bilateral issues and problems in individual countries. But naturally the issue of human rights, democracy and freedoms in the region will be addressed because it is part of our values ​​and principles. It is something we have in common with our partners in Latin America. I think that both we in the European Union and our Latin American partners and friends emphasize values ​​such as freedoms and human rights.

RFI: MEPs are still pushing for measures to be implemented. There is talk, for example, of greater sanctions or of activating the democratic clause of the European Union-Central America Association Agreement. What would be the tools to put pressure in a certain way to protect the democratic institutions in Nicaragua?

Peter Stano: One question would be if there are still some democratic institutions in Nicaragua, because the Ortega regime maintains a dictatorship in the country and that worries us a lot. The European Parliament is a different institution in the European Union and independent from the Commission. But it is a reflection.

The European Parliament has discussed the situation in Nicaragua nine times in the last three years, because Europe is concerned about the situation of the people and their suffering. The EU has already introduced sanctions: “restrictive measures”, as we call them in the European Union. There are more than 20 people on the European sanctions list and three organizations. We are willing to take other measures if necessary. But keep in mind that decisions on sanctions are taken unanimously: we need the explicit agreement of 27 member countries of the European Union.

RFI: Is it also the case, for example, to break agreements of a commercial nature?

Peter Stano: Yes naturally. But we believe that maintaining the trade agreement is important, because it has advantages and benefits for the population. If we suspend any cooperation and trade agreement with Nicaragua, the regime will not care, but the population will not.

Our financial and commercial support projects are aimed at people. We don’t do anything with the regime, we don’t do anything with the authorities, everything is focused so that the population of Nicaragua is the one that benefits. If we suspend these activities, the first to suffer are the citizens who already suffer a lot under the Ortega regime.

RFI: Other countries in the region are beginning to worry, where a clear deterioration of democratic institutions is also being observed. Countries like El Salvador, like Guatemala. Could you also put pressure on those countries?

Peter Stano: Yes, and that’s something we already do. We have dialogue with them. We post reactions expressing our criticism. We hope that our partners in the region will do something similar because that happens in the region. Fixing these issues is first the responsibility of the region. The European Union is always ready to support all efforts to protect democracy, stability in countries and respect for human rights. They are the obligations of those countries, either in national constitutions or in international obligations.

We are very active in the region to maintain that pressure. But it is a positive pressure, not a negative one: what we want to achieve are freedoms and rights for the population.

RFI: At this summit with CELAC you have the presence of Venezuela, where the government electorally disqualified a new opposition figure, María Corina Machado. What guarantees can the European Union demand from Venezuela to advance in any type of cooperation agreement?

Peter Stano: The situation in Venezuela is very difficult. The European Union is working with its Venezuelan partners to find a peaceful and democratic Venezuelan-led solution to end this longstanding political and social crisis. A key moment in this solution is the holding of credible, transparent and inclusive presidential elections in 2024.

We have expressed our deep concern about the decisions that are aimed at preventing members of the opposition from exercising their fundamental political rights, as is the case of María Corina Machado and other political leaders. Those decisions undermine democracy and the rule of law and further deteriorate the protracted crisis.

But we are ready to continue working with our partners. This effort must be led by Venezuelans to restore democracy. If the Venezuelans are not willing or do not want to achieve it, what can we do? We have also sanctioned the regime in Venezuela. We can continue with more sanctions or we can continue the dialogue. The regime in Venezuela will be the one who decides to what level.

RFI: After the Joint Council of the European Union with Cuba, held in May, a dialogue was agreed with the Cuban government scheduled for November on human rights. How willing is Cuba to detail, for example, the issue of the 1,800 detainees after the 9/11 protests and to negotiate releases?

Peter Stano: It is an issue that we often discuss with our Cuban partners. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, visited Cuba and also raised the issue of political prisoners and human rights.

We are going to organize a special dialogue dedicated to human rights. Our special envoy of the European Union for Human Rights is going to visit Cuba and will be part of this dialogue.

I think it is a sign of progress: it shows us that there are possibilities to speak and we naturally hope to see concrete results, because the goal in the end is the freedom of these people. Naturally, the dialogue with Cuba is not very easy, but we are the way to achieve results.

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Written by Editor TLN

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